NC Politicians say 'Drill Baby Drill'
In a technical corrections bill passed at the end of the last legislative session, lawmakers made their determination to bring fracking to North Carolina clear. While several counties have tried to slow down the process to make sure the proper environmental measures are taken, politicians have made their stance on the issue plain, declaring all local ordinances are now "invalidated and unenforceable." When it comes to clean energy, such as wind turbines, however, the state has never attempted to interfere with local regulation. So it seems local communities can do as they wish, as long as it doesn't conflict with lawmakers' political agenda.
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The legislature wanted to make something perfectly clear: Fracking will proceed in North Carolina, whether local governments and residents like it or not.
This was generally stated in the 2014 energy bill that opened the door to natural gas exploration and extraction in North Carolina. But that didn’t stop county commissioners in several counties, most recently Stokes, from setting moratoriums allowing more time for them to review land-use rules to make sure they’re sufficiently protective of the environment.
So the legislature stated its desire more explicitly: Local ordinances are “invalidated and unenforceable,” it said in language included in a 41-page “technical corrections” bill passed in the final minutes of its session last month.
The legislative leaders who are determined to open up North Carolina to the energy industry don’t want the people to stand in their way. At the county level, however, elected officials are more responsive. In Stokes, Rockingham, Chatham, Lee and Anson counties, they’re heard from thousands of people who are worried about possible detrimental effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. These can include air pollution, water contamination, noise, dust and damage to roads. Commissioners in these counties worry their taxpayers may be stuck with the costs of coping with heavy industrial activities as others reap the benefits.
In Perquimans County, commissioners recently set a moratorium on wind farm construction while they study possible changes to their land-use ordinances. Two large wind projects are proposed in the county, alarming some residents who are concerned about the impact of hundreds of tall turbines.
The legislature hasn’t taken any action to prevent local governments from setting zoning guidelines or other measures to regulate wind energy projects — nor should it.
When it comes to natural gas, however, the legislature is so keen to get going that it’s directed the Department of Environmental Quality to drill test wells. Its haste leads critics to worry that it hasn’t taken time to develop adequate protections.
Even if statewide regulations are generally responsible, they don’t take local conditions into consideration. It’s a mistake for the legislature to deny towns and counties meaningful input. They would be allowed to apply local zoning regulations to any other heavy industrial land use. Why not fracking?