In a largely party-line vote, the state House approved a Republican-backed bill that rewrites state energy policy to promote and approve of drilling for natural gas on land and off the coast.
Supporters of Senate Bill 709 said drilling would create revenue for the cash-strapped state government and jobs for North Carolinians by creating a regulatory atmosphere that is more "pro business."
Republican lawmakers brushed aside concerns raised by Democrats about the potential for an offshore spill to negatively affect coastal tourism and the possible contamination of drinking wells through the use of a controversial gas drilling technique that relies on the hydraulic fracturing of underground rock, known as fracking.
"It's time to get crackin' on frackin'," said an enthusiastic Rep. John Blust, a Greens boro Republican. "If we're worrying about tourism, do you think $4 a gallon gas is going to affect tourism? We need more fossil fuels in this country."
Democrats objected to the often-repeated GOP talking point that drilling for natural gas will reduce gasoline prices and reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil. There are not believed to be sizable deposits of oil off the North Carolina coast.
After a study was quoted as saying that increased domestic oil production would have a negligible effect on gasoline prices, Blust countered that such economic analyses were produced by "wackos in an ivory tower."
An attempt by Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, to amend the bill to add renewable energy sources such as wind power and wave power to the list of options for creating new energy was defeated.
Harrison pointed out that tourism generates many more jobs and revenue in the state than even the rosiest forecast for drilling.
"We have a tourism economy that depends on a clean coast," Harrison said.
Republican supporters countered that the bill designates the first $500 million the state earns through offshore drilling royalties to a special fund to clean up the environmental damage from any accident or spill.
The bill, a version of which has already passed the Senate, was approved 67-44.
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