A reworked version of legislation allowing fracking passed the House Commerce Committee Wednesday, despite confusion over who would be in charge of the state’s Energy Jobs Council.
Under the latest version of Senate Bill 76, the Energy Jobs Council would be located in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) tasked with making recommendations for increasing domestic energy exploration and production.
Rep. Mike Hager pushed to amend the PCS, moving the Jobs Council back to the Department of Commerce. Fellow Republicans Rep. Marilyn Avila and Rep. Dana Bumgardner also objected to stripping the Jobs Council from Commerce and moving it to DENR.
So Fred Steen, chief lobbyist for Governor Pat McCrory, tried to ease their concerns:
“DENR is not your father’s DENR and Commerce will not be your mother’s Commerce in the future. We’re going to change both of them,” said Steen.
(In April, Governor McCrory announced plans to reorganize the state Commerce Department, privatizing a large portion of it.)
Rep. Charles Jeter tried to explain the move this way:
“If Commerce gets more and more privatized, you could end up having this committee, operated by a private company, setting policy on hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina. And for that reason it seems best suited in DENR,” said Jeter.
Rep. Mike Stone reminded the Commerce Committee the goal was to get the bill pushed forward, and Rep. Hager’s amendment failed.
“The new administration and the governor’s office has some new ideas and things that are gonna happen that we’re probably not all aware of yet,”said Stone. “More importantly, I’d like to get the rules finalized and get them back to us, so we can start a natural gas program.”
Other changes included in the bill that advanced Wednesday would allow permits to be issued starting in March of 2015, but the General Assembly would retain final approval of when drilling could begin.
The bill now moves to the House Environment Committee. To hear a portion of Wednesday’s debate, click below: