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Perdue vetoes controversial fracking bill

Posted July 1, 2012 3:23 p.m. EDT
Updated July 1, 2012 8:36 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Bev Perdue announced Sunday that she has vetoed a controversial proposal to legalize fracking in North Carolina.

The bill, Senate Bill 820, was backed by Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who said it would give state regulators up to two years to implement rules. Lawmakers would have to approve those rules before any commercial wells could be drilled.

But environmental advocates pushed Perdue to veto the bill. They say safeguards should be put in place before fracking is legalized, not the other way around.

In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Perdue said that, although she supports fracking, the legislation moves too quickly.

"This bill does not do enough to ensure that adequate protections for our drinking water, landowners, county and municipal governments, and the health and safety of our families will be in place before fracking begins," Perdue said.

She says she tried to work with lawmakers, but they refused to negotiate.

"I urged the sponsors of the bill to adopt a few changes to ensure that strong protections would be in place before any fracking would occur," Perdue said. "The General Assembly was unwilling to adopt the changes I suggested. Therefore, I must veto the bill."

Republican leaders accused Perdue of flip-flopping on the issue of fracking. In March, Perdue said she believed hydraulic fracturing could be done safely in North Carolina. In May, the state Department of Natural Resources backed that conclusion after an extensive study of energy exploration in the state. 

Senate President Pro Temp Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis said state lawmakers incorporated many of the governor's suggestions to create a bipartisan plan that laid the foundation for developing "affordable, clean energy alternatives."

"Gov. Perdue's latest flip-flop on shale gas exploration is an attempt to slam the brakes on the creation of a vibrant new economic sector in North Carolina," Berger and Tillis said in a joint statement. "We are disappointed, but not surprised, that when decision time neared, she once again caved to her liberal base rather than support the promise of more jobs for our state."

The environmental community praised the governor's veto.

"Gov. Perdue stood up for our drinking water today," said Elizabeth Ouzts, director of Environment North Carolina. "She stood up for our air quality and our rural landscapes, and against this dangerous approach to fracking."

The N.C. Sierra Club called the proposed legislation "misguided" and said it put drinking water at risk of contamination.

"We hope the legislature will turn its focus to finding ways to develop real energy solutions, like solar and offshore wind, that will create long-term jobs while keeping our air and water clean," said Sierra Club State Director Molly Diggins.

Fracking supporters accused Perdue of killing job opportunities in North Carolina for the sake of politics.

"Today Gov. Perdue went back on her word and against her own Department of Natural Resources, who stated that energy exploration could be safely achieved in North Carolina. Once again Gov. Perdue has vetoed North Carolina citizens out of good-paying energy jobs," Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement. 

"Perdue decided that North Carolina citizens should continue to suffer crippling unemployment," Woodhouse added.

It's the second time Perdue has stopped legislation that would move the state toward fracking. Last year, she vetoed a proposal with far fewer safeguards. Republican leaders have not yet been able to override that veto.

Perdue has vetoed two other major bills in recent days – the Racial Justice Act repeal, and the state budget. Lawmakers are expected to attempt to override all three vetoes Monday or Tuesday.