One week after a fracking provision was removed from an unrelated House bill in a bipartisan rebuke to the GOP majority leader, the controversial measure returned Wednesday despite Democrats’ complaints that there was little advance notice.
The debate involves a proposal to release the N.C. Environmental Management Commission from having to write regulations governing toxic air emissions caused by fracking operations. Instead, the amendment – now part of an otherwise uncontroversial environmental bill – would allow the commission to rule that existing state and federal regulations are sufficient.
The bill and the fracking provision passed Wednesday morning in a 76-40 vote, mostly along party lines. But even taking a vote on the proposal was controversial, given its rapid movement through House committees.
The amendment was removed from a funding bill last week in a 77-41 vote, after several House members said they didn’t understand the implications of what Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherfordton Republican, had proposed.
The same amendment was added to House Bill 157 in an environmental committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. The bill had been expected to go next to the finance committee, but it was instead sent to the rules committee.
The rules committee meeting – set for 8 a.m. Wednesday – was added to the calendar at 6:01 p.m. Tuesday. That committee stripped out the provision requiring a finance meeting and sent it to the full House.
Democrats say that process was wrong, but their effort to delay the debate was defeated in a 75-40 vote along party lines.
“It feels a little bit about Groundhog Day,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat, referring to the movie where a man is forced to relive the same day repeatedly. “This is a very controversial issue. Fracking has got significant air quality issues. There’s been a lack of public notice about this bill.”
Hager, however, said there’s been plenty of opportunity for the public to weigh in. “It’s germane to the bill, it’s been around for eight days,” he said.
Rep. David Lewis, the rules chairman and a Dunn Republican, said the bill’s quick movement isn’t ideal.
“I wish that we did not have to do that,” he said. “But there are time sensitive provisions that require the General Assembly to act from time to time, and this bill contains a time-sensitive provision.”