The fate of shale gas exploration in North Carolina is in the hands of 10 lawmakers elected to negotiate a deal out of two contrary pieces of legislation setting the states energy policy.
The state House and Senate each picked five lawmakers, or conferees, for closed-door talks in the House-Senate conference on Senate Bill 76. The two bills couldnt be more different.
The Senate version would lift the states fracking moratorium, boot the state geologist from the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, allow for injecting fracking waste in wells, and eliminate a registry for landmen who sign drill leases with property owners.
The House version would undo those changes. In addition, it would impose fines on fraudulent landmen and criminal penalties for operating without a state license.
The two negotiating teams will attempt to bridge the chasm between the two opposing visions. They include lawmakers who were outspoken for each position, including Reps. Mike Hager, Ruth Samuelson and Mike Stone for moderation, and Sens. E.S. Buck Newton, Andrew Brock and Bob Rucho for the accelerated approach.
The House appointed its team Thursday and the Senate Wednesday. The conferees will meet in private and, if they succeed, their compromise legislation will be sent to the House and Senate for final approval.
Budget fallback considered
Legislators will talk next week about passing a stop-gap budget that will allow the state to function past June 30 if theres no big budget agreement by then.
House Speaker Thom Tillis raised the possibility of a continuing resolution, or a CR, on Thursday.
The House and Senate passed $20.6 billion budgets, but they differ significantly in some details. The legislature cannot pass a budget before members agree on a new tax code.
The tax reform numbers have implications for the budget, said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and House budget writer. A CR is more likely than not, he said.
CRs are a bit of a flash back to the days when Democrats ran the legislature and the state had a Democratic governor. Last session, Republicans took pride in passing budgets not just on time, but ahead of schedule, as they overrode Democratic Gov. Bev Perdues vetoes.
After session, Tillis and Rep. David Lewis, a tax negotiator, spent a good amount of time Thursday afternoon meeting with the Senate Republican caucus. Senate Leader Phil Berger said the tax negotiations are moving.
Landfill bill moves forward
With a 28-18 vote, the Senate gave tentative approval a contentious measure to loosen landfill restrictions in a move critics say will lead to mega-dumps for out-of-state trash. It reverses restrictions put in place in 2007 that bled into the governors race the following year and plagued then-unsuccessful candidate Pat McCrory.
Under the measure the buffer for locating landfills near parks shrinks from miles to 1,500 feet and restricts the state environmental agencies ability to reject permit applications.
The bill SB328 also weakens environmental protections regarding landfill sites and trash trucks. Senate bill sponsor Trudy Wade said more capacity is needed at landfills, though state officials say it would take about 30 years to fill the current ones.
Democrats led the effort against the bill, but four Republicans crossed lines to vote against it, Sens. Bill Cook, Neal Hunt, Wesley Meredith and Ron Rabin. The final vote will take place early next week and the bill then moves to the House for consideration.
Staff writers John Murawski, Lynn Bonner and John Frank
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