Anti-frackWhen state lawmakers passed a law to allow the introduction of fracking into North Carolina a couple of years ago, proponents promised the public that the state would have the strongest possible environmental protection rules. Today, the state House took one of what will undoubtedly be a repeated series of steps to walk away from that assurance.

Despite strong objections from environmental advocates, lawmakers hurriedly approved a bill that repeals the current law which requires the adoption of state air quality rules by the agency charged with overseeing fracking — the state Mining and Energy Commission. In other words, rather than adopting North Carolina-specific air quality rules for fracking operations (something on which the Commission was already working), the Commission will now be free to take a pass and simply defer to the rudimentary and inadequate federal rules.

Today’s vote occurred in spite of the strong objections of environmental experts like Rep. Pricey Harrison of Guilford County, who explained that the federal rules basically exempt small “wildcat” operations — i.e. the very (and only) kind of gas exploration outfits that North Carolina is likely to attract given its unproven natural gas reserves. While federal rules do a better job of governing larger operations of the kind run by big energy firms, those companies aren’t likely to come to North Carolina anytime soon.

The bottom line: North Carolina took another step toward toward bringing fracking to the state today and it did so in such a way that increases the likelihood that citizens and our natural environment will be exposed to dangerous air pollutants.



Ozone EPA

Image: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Good government can do a lot of to things to improve the quality of life for its citizens, but when you get down to it, making people healthier and safer is pretty much at or close to the top of any reasonable person’s list. That’s why the Affordable Care Act was and is, ultimately, for all its imperfections and corporate giveaways, a success. At the end of the day, more people will be alive, healthier and happier because of the ACA.

Happily, the same is also true of another important Obama administration initiative announced today: new rules to curb ozone pollution. As reports:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday its proposal for a long-delayed regulation to curb ozone pollution, a human health hazard linked to asthma, heart disease, premature death, and an array of pregnancy complications. Read More


FrackingAs you may have heard, North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission held the last in a series of meetings last Friday during which they considered public feedback on the draft fracking rules. Despite having received over 200,000 public comments over the last few months, the Commission only made a few little changes to the rules. They have now come up with a finalized set of rules which will eventually make its way to the General Assembly, where it is likely to be approved. Given that fracking may begin in North Carolina as early as next year, you may want to know a thing or two about these rules.

The majority of the public comments called for stricter safety rules. In response, the Commission made some of the following changes:

  • Unannounced inspections will be permitted – the rules will now allow inspections to take place without prior notice to drillers, in order to encourage the drillers to maintain ongoing compliance.
    (BUT note: the rule is just providing permission, it is neither requiring that inspections take place nor requiring that they take place with regular frequency)
  • Amount of time for permit application to be approved or denied will be increased to 180 days – this allows the public to have more notice and opportunity to comment on the request.
  • So-called “fluid pits” will be required to be larger and continuous monitoring will be required – fracking fluid is held in large open pits, which can be a huge safety hazard. The Commission did not ban open fluid pits but rather just increased their size, in order to prevent spills, and increased the frequency of monitoring for leakage into the ground, from monthly to continuous.

Among the items the rules don’t address: Read More


Frack-free-400The  editorial page of the Wilmington Star-News joins the long and growing list of opponents to the fast-track fracking bill approved by the General Assembly last week.

Among other things, the paper notes the opposition of conservative Republican lawmaker Rick Catlin of New Hanover County:

“Republican Rep. Rick Catlin voted against the bill, as did Democrat Susi Hamilton; both are from New Hanover County. They understand that there is too much at stake and not enough protections for the public or the taxpayers in this bill. Hamilton notes that under this scenario, the General Assembly would have no review of the rules the commission develops, despite assurances to the contrary in previous legislation.

Catlin, an environmental engineer and hydrogeologist knows a thing or two about the risks of fracking.

He is not opposed to gas exploration – on the contrary, he sees it as potentially beneficial to the state, environmentally and economically, if it is done safely and correctly. But he thinks the state is giving up too much oversight and too much potential revenue….

In other words, whether the people like it or not, drilling will occur – potentially affecting their property, their health and the sovereignty of city and town boards made up of residents who will have to live with whatever the oil and gas companies leave behind. And the state won’t get nearly as much money as other states that allow this practice to occur.

This is what passes for ‘doing the will of the people’ in the new North Carolina.”


SmokestacksYesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important ruling in favor of EPA regulation of cross-state air pollution from coal-fired power plants.  Today, one of North Carolina’s best-known and most respected environmental advocates celebrated the decision and the efforts of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in making the whole thing happen. This is from Molly Diggins, head of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club:

“In 2002, North Carolina, with bipartisan support, passed the Clean Smokestacks Act, which directed the State of North Carolina to seek similar reductions from coal-fired power plants upwind to those the state was mandating from NC’s coal-fired power plants.

Using the Good Neighbor provisions of the Clean Air Act, Attorney General Roy Cooper asked the EPA to get reductions from upwind states that were impacting NC’s ability to have clean air, despite the stringent cleanup standards in Clean Smokestacks. The EPA responded with protections for states like North Carolina that are downwind of polluting states. But their action was challenged in court. Read More