Hello frackers, so long Hollywood

On Wednesday, June 4 N.C. Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the Energy Modernization Act, which lifts a longtime state ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, allowing shale gas exploration to begin as early as next year.

Under the law, test drilling to assess the amount of gas in North Carolina’s Piedmont region could occur this fall and fracking could officially begin in the state by spring 2015.

Like other controversial bills considered by the current administration, the fracking legislation was rushed through the state House and Senate and ratified in the course of approximately 48 hours.

While McCrory claims the bill will spur economic development and create jobs, legitimate concerns about the environmental and health impacts of fracking, which extracts oil and gas from the ground by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water and chemicals into rock, have been largely ignored by the legislature.

And those concerns are being sounded not only by environmental activists but by our own state officials.

“We promised the people of North Carolina we were not going to move forward with fracking until we have rules in place to protect the public health and the environment,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Dist 57). “This bill violates that promise.”

According to Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina, there have been more than 1,000 documented cases of contaminated water from fracking across the country. Anyone looking for up an close and personal view of the possible impacts of fracking should watch the 2010 documentary “Gasland,” which focuses on communities in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Texas affected by natural gas drilling. Throughout the movie, residents discuss chronic health problems they claim were caused by  contamination of the air, water wells and surface water as a result of nearby fracking.

To say that North Carolina’s new energy act was ill conceived is, I believe, to give our state lawmakers too much credit. It’s clear that the move was, in fact, very carefully considered and that our representatives chose to simply ignore environmental and health concerns in favor of appeasing corporate interests.

If that sounds harsh, consider one of the law’s most controversial measures, which makes the “unlawful disclosure” of the chemicals injected into the ground to unlock stores of natural gas a misdemeanor. Emergency first responders will now be required to enter a strict confidentially agreement with permit holders before sharing information about chemicals or health concerns.

A previous version of the bill, which was modified after public outcry, would have made it a felony to disclose the chemical cocktail.

The only conclusion I can possibly draw from this is that our state legislators place more value on cozying up to oil and gas companies than they do on protecting the health of their constituents, blatantly choosing profits over the public interest. One responder to a recent news story on North Carolina’s fracking legislation proposed the bill be renamed “See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil or we’re going to fuck with you.” That about sums it up.

While our state lawmakers are rushing to open the doors to fracking, they’re apparently close to giving the boot to another business that’s been flocking to our state over the last decade—the movie industry.

The state Senate has given their approval to a plan that would sharply diminish North Carolina’s current film tax incentive, slashing funding for the program by two-thirds. The current program, which expires at the end of the year, allows productions that spend at least $250,000 in North Carolina to claim 25 percent of their qualifying expenses up to $20 million.

Last week, a proposal to extend the film incentives at a slightly lower rate was voted down by the state House.

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the film and TV industry is responsible for more than 12,000 jobs in the state, including more than 3,000 production jobs, and more than $538 million in wages from production and distribution-related jobs.

While the economic numbers can be argued, the logic in essentially shutting down a growing industry within the state is hard to fathom. Maybe our senators and representatives aren’t seeing enough of a kickback from movie profits or perhaps there  aren’t enough high paying movie industry lobbying jobs waiting for them after they retire from politics. Or maybe it’s simply another attempt by supposedly conservative lawmakers to remove our state from the influence of that great liberal Satan, Hollywood.

Anyway you look at it, sneaking in the frackers through the backdoor while kicking filmmakers out through the front is simply poor policy, economically, environmentally, and yes, morally. Unfortunately, it’s a script that’s grown all too familiar.

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