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House Signs Off On Fracking Guidelines

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The House voted 73-45 Wednesday to approve on an industry backed bill that critics say will pave the way for fracking in Florida.

The controversial oil and gas drilling technique involves pumping water and chemicals more than a mile beneath the aquifer, where the state gets most of its water.

The House passed a similar bill last year, but it stalled in the Senate. The latest version puts fracking on hold until scientists conduct a year-long study and the Legislature signs off on new regulations.

But no amount of watering down can dilute passions on the other side. Amy Datz, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Caucus of Florida, says she’s not going away, even if the bill becomes law and the study and rulemaking begin.

“In those two years, we’re going to be really busy, going door to door, county to county, city to city commission, asking people to ban fracking.”

Legislation banning fracking can’t get a hearing and opponents won’t be happy with anything less. So when the House debate began Tuesday, Democrats tried to torpedo the bill with 27 amendments.

This exchange between Even Jenne of Hollywood, and bill sponsor Ray Rodrigues of Fort Myers, set the tone and demonstrated the gulf between both sides.

“Well, can you name me one specific study, that says, that hasn’t been funded by the oil and gas industry, that claims that there aren’t threats to fracking?...Rep. Rodrigues…I would counter with, could you give me a study that wasn’t funded by the environmentalists that says the opposite?”

Datz and her colleagues convinced cities and counties across Florida to pass anti-fracking resolutions.  And Bonita Springs passed an anti-fracking ordinance. But bill sponsors say they have an answer for that.

The bill originally banned local governments from regulating fracking.  The latest version gives local governments the right to zone fracking away from residential neighborhoods, as long as they don’t quote, “inordinately burden,” drillers.

Florida League of Cities lobbyist Rebecca O’Hara says that’s enough latitude for her group to drop its opposition to the bill.

“It is the product of several weeks, or I would say months of negotiations over how to craft that balance to define where those areas of local government regulation begins and ends and we believe this language gets us there.”

Proponents are baffled by the opposition. Senate sponsor Gary Richter of Naples says Florida couldn’t stop fracking right now if it wanted to.

Here’s environmental spending committee chairman Alan Hays coaching Richter on that point earlier this week.

“If my position today is saying I’m against fracking, should I be in favor of this bill or against it? Mr. Chairman, I would say a no vote for this bill would mean no regulation.”

But that doesn’t mean the bill will have easy sledding in the upper chamber. Senator Charlie Dean, the environmental committee chairman, has voted against it.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee has voted for the bill, but he’s calling for changes and he’s clearly unhappy.

“You know, I’m so disappointed that the proponents of this bill won’t stand up here behind Senator Richter and explain to us why this is good public policy.”

The bill will have to make a stop in Lee’s committee before it hits the floor.