North Carolina: Last-minute bill counteracts local anti-fracking moratoria

Stop fracking sign
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Days after the Stokes County commissioners unanimously approved a moratorium on oil-and-gas operations for three years, North Carolina lawmakers signed a bill in the final hours of the general session last week that counteracts anti-fracking moratoria passed by local governments in the state.

The updated Senate Bill 119 – which was supposed to contain “technical corrections” – now says all provisions of local ordinances that “regulate or have the effect of regulating” oil and gas exploration “are invalidated and unenforceable.”

Supporters of the bill’s provisions say that it aims to provide a “uniform system for the management” of oil-and-gas development, including the use of fracking. Longtime fracking supporter Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg told the Washington Times that the original intent of the law is that “no local ordinance should restrict the ability of being able to have shale gas exploration or development.”

The opponents, however, are concerned that the law in effect prevents the local authorities from taking steps to represent the interests of the citizens. Mary Maclean Asbill, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that “[the bill] extremely hamstrings local governments from being able to protect their citizens from the harmful impacts of fracking.”

There is still some confusion about whether the bill will have any effect on the powers of local governments. Richard Whisnant, a professor of public law and policy at the UNC School of Government, told the Winston-Salem Journal that the fracking-related provision “doesn’t explicitly address local development moratoria,” he said, based on a “tentative” first reading.

Many are offended by an ‘underhand’ way that the law was introduced – well past midnight on Wednesday. “It’s sad to see the legislature enact, and the governor sign, language intended to strip local elected officials of the power to protect their citizens’ health and property,” said Grady McCallie, policy director at the N.C. Conservation Network.

“Making it worse, the provision wasn’t in earlier House or Senate versions of the bill — it was added for the first time in conference, literally in the dead of night, on the last night of (the) session. The first time it saw the light of day was when copies of the conference report were distributed, between 3 and 4 a.m., shortly before the final vote,” he said.

Source: The Winston-Salem Journal, The Washington Times

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