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A publication of Appalachian Voices

Across Appalachia

North Carolina Lawmakers Fumble Over Fracking Vote

By Brian Sewell

After Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a controversial bill to legalize hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina, both the state Senate and House allowed little time for debate before voting to override the block.

In the Republican-led House of Representatives, the veto override created controversy when it succeeded by one mistaken vote. Rep. Becky Carney, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County who had been vocal in her opposition to legalizing fracking, accidentally voted with Republicans to override the veto when she pressed the wrong button.

Upon realizing her mistake, Carney immediately asked to be allowed to recast her vote. Although allowing lawmakers to change an accidental vote is routine practice, the chamber’s rules do not provide members a second vote if it affects the outcome.

The legislature’s next task is to appoint the members of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission representing the range of residents’ views who will develop regulations of fracking intended to protect North Carolinians’ health and the environment. Only two of the 15 members of the commission are required to have conservation backgrounds by the bill, but even this simple precept is proving controversial.

A red flag was raised when Ray Covington, the co-founder of North Carolina Oil and Gas, which manages mineral rights leases for landowners in return for a share of future profits, was appointed to positions meant for conservationists by House Speaker Thom Tillis. Watchdog groups and concerned residents are calling for Covington’s replacement, citing an obvious conflict of interest.

Considering state lawmakers’ handling of the process to bring fracking to North Carolina so far, some residents worry that the state is already putting oil and gas interests ahead of their own.

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