Gov's bills potential targets at end of session
Posted July 23, 2013
Updated July 24, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Two bills that are high on the governor's priority list are potential targets for last-minute changes and additions as the session draws to a close.
One proposal, Senate Bill 127, is the legislation Gov. Pat McCrory has sought to authorize a revamp of the state Commerce Department. The proposal would allow for agency reorganization and public-private partnerships.
That bill is currently in a conference committee after Senate leaders said it needed a closer look. But three House Republicans privy to those committee talks say Senate leaders are pushing to add two controversial environmental provisions to the measure.
The two provisions, which lack support from either the House or McCrory, could be destined for legislative limbo. But adding them into a bill the governor has called one of his top priorities could add leverage to the changes – if House negotiators allow it.
One provision, most recently sighted in the regulatory reform omnibus House Bill 74, would prevent the Mining and Energy Commission from requiring natural gas drilling companies to hand over the chemical recipes for the fluids they're using in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," operations.
The provision in the bill says drilling companies must show their specific chemical recipes to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mining and Energy Commission for review, but DENR wouldn't keep records of the chemical components of the fluids on file if they are deemed a trade secret.
DENR backed the provision, saying that possession of trade secrets could put the state in the middle of potential litigation. But the Mining and Energy Commission was less supportive. Critics say the recipes should be on file in some form to protect the health and safety of first responders who might have to contend with a spill or other accident.
The House sent House Bill 74 to a conference committee, reportedly because of the secrecy provision.
The other provision Senate leaders are said to be pushing to add to the Commerce Department reorganization bill is a controversial proposal to ease restrictions on the siting and permitting of landfills in North Carolina, currently known as Senate Bill 328.
In 2007, state lawmakers passed sweeping changes to the state's landfill laws. At the time, their aim was to derail plans for a mega-landfill in Camden County that would accept trash from the Northeast.
Backers of the new landfill bill say the 2007 changes were so restrictive that the state hasn't permitted a single landfill since their passage. They say the state will need more landfill capacity in the next 15 to 20 years, though environmental experts say it's more like 30.
Senate Bill 328 would allow landfills to be built within 1,500 feet of national wildlife refuges, state parks and game lands. Current law requires a distance of 5 miles from refuges, 2 miles from state parks and 1 mile from game lands. It would also loosen inspection and permitting rules and require that garbage trucks be only leak-resistant, rather than leak-proof, a financial boon for the waste industry.
The bill emerged suddenly at the end of June, championed by Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford. Despite opposition by Democrats and three of Wade's fellow Republicans, it passed the Senate and moved to the House, where it hasn't been taken up.
McCrory has expressed concerns about the legislation. So has the city of Chesapeake, Va. Since the 2007 law, local officials have worked to develop the area that was planned for the Camden mega-landfill as a green industrial park instead. While their efforts have been successful, they're concerned the bill could lead to a landfill in the middle of it. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia has also weighed in, asking the governor to nix the bill.
Another high-priority bill for the governor is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday. McCrory has been pushing Republican leaders to approve House Bill 834, a proposal that would give the governor more flexibility to hire and fire state employees by rewriting the State Personnel Act.
The bill is certainly not the only bill the governor's asked for that's been put on hold in Senate Rules. But it may be the highest-profile proposal left at the Senate's disposal. As such, it would make an ideal vehicle for other provisions McCrory doesn't like – but, again, only if the House agrees.