Under the Dome

Fracking backer slated for ‘conservation’ spot on board, as Cooper’s nominees stall

Amy Pickle, left, Dr. Kenneth Taylor, center, and James Womack listen as Ray Jackson, far right, speaks at a public hearing on proposed fracking rules held at the McKimmon Center on the N.C. State campus in Raleigh on August 20, 2014.
Amy Pickle, left, Dr. Kenneth Taylor, center, and James Womack listen as Ray Jackson, far right, speaks at a public hearing on proposed fracking rules held at the McKimmon Center on the N.C. State campus in Raleigh on August 20, 2014. cseward@newsobserver.com

It could still be a few months until the state Utilities Commission and the Board of Education have a full board seated for meetings. Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican, told reporters Wednesday that two appointments for each of those boards would have to wait. Gov. Roy Cooper announced his choices for the appointments in May, but they have yet to receive legislative approval.

"We're not breaking any new ground there, at least since I've been elected, in taking awhile to get someone, an appointee through," Rabon said, adding he'd be meeting with some of the appointees soon. "We just haven't finished the entire process," he said. Rabon also noted those particular board positions would not be filled "before January."

House Democrats earlier in the day had urged their Republican colleagues to take up those four appointments. "The appointments are made, the people are waiting to serve, the people's terms that have expired are holding over, trying to do the best job but have expressed interest to leave," Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat, said in a press conference. "Work is not getting done, so the question is: Why wait? It's just the pettiest of things."

While those four spots are still in limbo, one position that is being addressed in the Senate's appointments bill is a seat on the state Oil and Gas Commission.

Jim Womack is a former Lee County commissioner and former Mining and Energy Commission member whose term on the Oil and Gas Commission was previously extended. Womack's position on the panel has been questioned by Department of Environment Quality chief deputy John Nicholson, since Womack's original appointment was made during a previous iteration of the board before lawmakers redesigned the commission last year.

Under that redesigned board, the only seat open for an appointment is one for a representative of a "nongovernmental conservation interest." Sen. Terry Van Duyn, a Buncombe County Democrat, questioned what conservation interest Womack had during the Senate Rules Committee. Rabon said he didn't know offhand what conservation interest Womack represented.

Once the bill was up for floor debate, Van Duyn pointed out that Womack does not appear to represent a conservation interest. She said that instead, he appears to be a "fierce advocate for fracking."

Sen. Paul Newton, a Cabarrus County Republican, responded to Van Duyn's concerns, saying that Womack was a "both a prudent advocate for oil and gas exploration and a conservationist."

Womack is a board member for the American Council on Science and Health, which describes itself as "a pro-science consumer advocacy organization." He told WRAL News that the group "probably is the poster-child of conservationists," and he noted that the law doesn't require an appointee from "an activist group that believes in banning drilling."

Former Republican Rep. Mike Stone of Lee County also received an appointment to the state Oil and Gas Commission, to fill the term of Raymond P. Covington, who resigned recently to focus on his job at the Hunt Institute in Durham.

The appointments bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House.

Lauren Horsch: 919-836-2801, @LaurenHorsch

  Comments