Democrats in the N.C. House and Senate are speaking out against revised environmental safety rules for fracking, signed into law this week by Gov. Pat McCrory.
“I believe the bill was way too rushed,” said N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard of District 22, which includes Durham and Person Counties. “I believe all the fracking rules were way too rushed.”
Woodard is of 10 senators that voted against HB157, which passed 39-10.
By Woodard’s account, the final version was presented Thursday morning at 8, and went to the Senate floor at 9 for the second reading and vote. The final reading and vote took place Monday night. The bill was then whisked by special messenger to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.
It was done just in time for the issuing of fracking permits to take effect on Tuesday.
“It was clear the sponsors of the bill wanted these particular regulations for air-quality control in effect before the first licenses could be issued,” said Woodard.
Woodard recalled that three years ago, fracking proponents and members of the oil-and-gas industry promised tough environmental protections for North Carolina – the toughest fracking rules in the nation.
Now, Democrats the General Assembly complain that the rules provide inadequate protections against air-and-water pollution, and accidents. And they’re calling for a moratorium to be reinstated.
Woodard spoke of the efforts between himself and some fellow Democrats to keep the fracking drills away, at least for a while longer. Those legislators include Sen. Valerie Foushee, representing Orange and Chatham; Rep. Robert Reives II of Chatham and Lee Counties; and Rep. Brad Salmon of Lee County.
“The four of us introduced bills to re-institute the moratorium on fracking,” said Woodard, “and to hold up implementation of the rules until we had more time with them.”
Back in February, Reives and Salmon joined together to file the bill to Disapprove Mining and Energy Commission Oil and Gas Rules. At the time, Reives said the rules don’t go far enough, and that they fail to provide adequate protections for drinking water.
After Monday’s vote by the Senate, Reives told WCHL that he agrees with Woodard that allowing the state’s Environmental Management Commission to forego creating air-quality rules for fracking is a mistake.
“We’re telling the Environmental Management Commission, ‘If you find that the normal state and federal regulations for air quality that govern all industries are adequate, then you don’t have to adopt rules,” said Reives. “And my problem is, if you have to sit down and fashion rules, I think you just naturally, as human beings, put more sweat equity into making sure that we understand each issue that’s before us, and that we make sure those issues are taken care of.”
Reives said he’s not necessarily against fracking, if it could be done safely, and county residents want it. Chatham residents, he added, generally don’t. He said he’s opposed to what he calls a rushed process that takes decision-making power away from counties.
“It’s tough for people to understand why they can’t decide what industries they want to have in their counties,” said Reives. “And if you think about it — any other business in the world, if your county decides it doesn’t want to have that type of business, then that’s the end of the discussion.
“But suddenly, for oil and gas, we’ve made an exception.”
Six Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the bill. They are: Sen. Angela Bryant of Rocky Mount, District 4; Sen. Ben Clark of Raeford, District 21; Sen. Joel D.M. Ford of Charlotte, District 38; Sen. Jane W. Smith of Lumberton, District 13; Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram of Gaston, District 3; and Sen. Joyce Waddell of Newell, District 40.
Woodard shared this observation:
“If you look where the shale land is, those senators and representatives are opposed to fracking. So, it’s people from other parts of the state who aren’t in a fracking zone, who don’t have any shale in their district, who are voting for this.”