The House version of a Senate bill that would fast-track fracking in North Carolina is headed for a floor vote after an okay Thursday by the House Environment committee.
The rewrite of Senate Bill 76 restores several key safeguards and protections Senate leaders wanted to remove from current law, most notably a requirement that lawmakers must vote to approve the final rules before fracking can begin in 2015.
The Senate version would allow the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to allow fracking to start without legislative approval.
Under the House version, DENR could begin issuing permits March 1, 2015 if the rules are finished, but those permits would not be valid until the General Assembly gives the go-ahead.
Critics of the bill said the permits shouldn't even be issued until legislators approve the rules, and questioned what would happen if DENR hasn't completed the rules by March 2015.
But the proposal has the backing of House leadership and DENR Secretary John Skvarla, who called it "a giant step forward in trying to bring certainty" to mining interests and consumers.
"Everything is not in place perfectly, but it is a large step forward," Skvarla told the committee.
The bill could be on the House floor for a vote as soon as Thursday afternoon.
Its odds beyond the House, however, are uncertain. It would have to go back to the Senate for concurrence. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Buck Newton, R-Nash, has said he disagrees with the House's changes.