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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

UPDATE: There's Something in the Air, And It Ain't Honeysuckle

WARNING: ACRONYM ALERT 



Friends,

Its time to introduce you to two more of my extended family members. Interestingly enough they are both named Mike- hmmmm so is my ex, I digress. These two folks played an important role in giving the oil and gas industry what amounts to a free pass when it comes to toxic air emissions from fracking: Mike Abraczinskas with the Division of Air Quality, and the Gentleman from Burke and Rutherford, Representative Mike Hager.


Background:

Air emissions from fracking are a serious public health concern. However, it was clear that the commissions and agencies responsible for protecting public health and the environment were not going to act. In August 2014, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) submitted a rulemaking petition on toxic air emissions to the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC). Link to BREDL press release: 

The petition was ultimately denied on the basis that the MEC did not have legal authority to develop rules, however it was agreed that they (the MEC) had failed the S820 requirement to develop recommendations for rules on air emissions to be considered by the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) for rulemaking. Story here:  Fracking Regulators Deny Legal Request for Air Pollution Rules. MEC Chairman Vik Rao acknowledged that the BREDL petition was a "triggering event", and a decision was made to investigate the concerns raised therein. The Environmental Standards Committee (ESC) was charged with doing so. 

Enter Mike and Mike

Remember Mike and Mike? Mike the politician and Mike the regulator? The MEC has relied on  the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) to present information relative to their investigation of air emissions from fracking. Despite several staff people attending ESC meetings with lovely presentations, the DAQ appears reluctant, at best, to do anything , even suggesting monitoring well pads in the most intensive phase of fracking when "fat tail" emissions occur.  Despite the lovely presentations, fundamental questions and concerns remain unanswered. 

One of our legislators, ever helpful, stepped in to help the DAQ with this problem. Rep. Mike Hagar tried to sneak in an amendment that would give the EMC wiggle room on developing rules to control toxic air emissions from fracking. Story here: NC lawmaker behind stealth attempt to block fracking air pollution rules a top recipient of oil and gas money. The amendment was later added to H157 and ultimately passed. While S820 mandated that the EMC develop rules based on recommendations from the MEC, H157 will allow the EMC discretion if they feel like what is in current law is sufficient. It isn't.  One would expect that DENR would not have been supportive of this blatant attempt to sidestep the MEC's process, and would have alerted them to this attempt to go around their work. Not so; at least two commissioners heard about the amendment the same way most of us did- in the paper. According to some in the know, DENR was the originator of the idea. If this is true, it's one thing for industry to try and influence politicians to pass legislation favorable to them, but for a state agency like the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources to try and manipulate policy to subvert the protection of public health is quite another.  This whole sorry mess sets up the potential for a family feud, which should be interesting.

UPDATE: NC Health News Article: http://www.northcarolinahealthnews.org/2015/04/09/law-loosens-requirements-for-gas-drillings-air-rules/

This begs the question: How does the DAQ know that whatever the Mining and Energy Commission comes up with will be duplicative? For instance monitoring?