Under the Dome

Dome: Fracking moratorium remains in place

From staff reportsJuly 20, 2013 

The effort to lift the state’s fracking moratorium has died a quiet death, one of several casualties resulting from a House-Senate compromise on the state’s energy policy.

The Senate is scheduled to take up a comprehensive energy measure, Senate Bill 76, on Tuesday. It emerged publicly on Friday after a month of closed-door conference discussions between House and Senate members.

The resulting compromise has been stripped of controversial provisions that would have lifted the state’s fracking moratorium in 2015, removed the state geologist from the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, and allowed for the deep injection of fracking waste in disposal wells.

The Senate had proposed those and other changes in the spring, but the House balked at radically revising a complex energy law that had passed just a year earlier by a single vote. Many of the House’s concerns are reflected in the compromise.

The new version directs the Mining and Energy Commission to conduct several studies. One is on the feasibility of a coordinated permitting program that would require a single comprehensive permit for shale gas exploration. Another is to study the appropriate severance tax rate on fracking operations. And another calls for studying registration requirements for the “landmen” who sign drilling leases with property owners.

The bill would also create a $250 million offshore energy emergency cleanup fund. And it directs the governor to work with his counterparts in Virginia and South Carolina to create a regional strategy for developing offshore drilling and offshore wind farms.

Common Core questions

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is challenging the state’s adoption of the Common Core education standards by asking the state’s education department to answer 20 pages of questions – 67 questions in all.

The State Department of Public Instruction received his request and asked him to provide 10,000 pages of paper so it could answer them, according to a Facebook post from Forest. The Republican said his office delivered the paper Friday and posted a photo online.

“Upon receipt of their reply to my letter, my team will methodically research all the answers supplied so that we can push this dialogue at the upcoming Board of Education meetings,” Forest wrote. “I will keep you updated on the progress of this effort.”

Forest is a member of the State Board of Education. No word on how much time and money it will take DPI to answer his questions or how long Forest’s state-paid staff will spend going through the answers.

Regulatory bill advances

An omnibus regulatory reform bill that would address environmental regulations, city ordinances, wages and other areas of government passed the Senate Friday in a 26-7 vote. Several senators raised concerns with portions of the 60-provision bill, House Bill 74.

“It would prohibit livable-wage ordinances by communities,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. “Overall, there are some good portions (in the bill), but some portions give me very deep concerns.”

Currently, municipalities and counties can set their own local living-wage ordinances, which can be tailored to meet community needs.

One provision, which would stop counties and municipalities from phasing out billboard signs in their communities, has been opposed by the League of Municipalities for giving local governments less independence in deciding how they want to deal with outdoor advertising. But the bill was amended earlier in the session: It won’t erase laws regarding billboards already in place.

The industry supports the provision because it would allow sign owners to replace their property when it falls into disrepair. The bill will be sent to the House for concurrence.

Abortion bill update

Sen. Warren Daniel, a Morganton Republican, says Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger has indicated the Senate will take final action on abortion legislation consistent with one of the two competing bills this session.

The bill approved by the House and endorsed by the governor is sitting in the Senate waiting for some kind of decision. The Senate’s similar but different version has been buried in the House. Neither side appears anxious to work things out in a conference committee, so there’s no telling what will emerge in the final days.

The legislature expected to wrap up its business this week.

Last week, Gov. Pat McCrory signed an abortion-related bill requiring that classroom curriculum include instruction that abortion is a risk factor for premature birth later in life.

Staff writers John Murawski, John Frank, Annalise Frank and Craig Jarvis

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