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Monday, Jan 21, 2019
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Legislator doubts fracking bill will pass this year

TALLAHASSEE — Last year, a bill aimed at creating hydraulic fracturing requirements was well on its way to the state House floor — sailing through all of its committee stops within the first month of the 2013 legislative session.

A year later, the bill’s sponsor said the mood in Tallahassee has changed, making the likelihood of the proposal passing much less likely.

“I suspect that it being an election year has led to a desire to draw lines of distinction on a number of issues,” said Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who again is sponsoring legislation requiring the state to put disclosure requirements in place before hydraulic fracturing, a type of oil and gas drilling known as fracking, begins in Florida.

“I think when you’re dealing with a subject that’s as controversial as creating a disclosure registry for fracking, it’s really an issue that you need to show has broad support. I’m not sure we can obtain that in this current session,” he said.

HB 71, or the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act, directs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to “establish and maintain” an online registry for all of the wells in the state where fracking treatments are performed.

The department may designate FracFocus.org, an existing online chemical disclosure registry, as the public online registry instead of the DEP website. FracFocus is managed by the Groundwater Protection Council, a nonprofit organization of ground water regulatory agencies, and the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission, a multistate government agency.

Rodrigues has filed a companion bill, HB 157, allowing oil and gas industry trade secrets to be exempt from the state’s public records law. The proposals, Rodrigues said, are exactly the same as the ones he initially filed in 2013.

Last year’s version of the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act passed the state House 92-19, but failed to progress in the Senate. Its companion bill failed to receive a vote last year.

Rodrigues said he’s somewhat surprised with the push-back this year, especially since the disclosure bill seemed to be well-received in 2013. He said he wasn’t expecting election-year politics to have an effect on the measure.

“This is a disclosure bill,” he said. “The question I ask anyone at the end of the meeting is, ‘Do you want to know what’s being put in the ground?’ Not one person has said no, so I’m mildly surprised with the way it is being framed.”

David Guest, the managing attorney at Earthjustice, said he isn’t surprised that bill is making little progress this year.

“I have my doubts about whether it will pass,” he said.

Guest said the combination of 2014 being an election year and increased suspicion among consumers about corporations means that the bills — which Earthjustice has opposed, based on the public records exemption component — have little chance.

The resistance started early this year. When the bills went before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources subcommittee in January, they passed 8-4 along party lines.

A year earlier, the same committee heard the disclosure act bill, passing it unanimously.

While Rodrigues said the partisan vote contributed to the slowdown this year, Guest said the larger problem is the public records exemption bill.

“The proposition that these are trade secrets is ridiculous. It’s like pancake mix,” he said. “If you’re going to inject something into the ground, you have to say what it is. This is a groundwater contaminant secrecy bill.”

Rodrigues said he isn’t giving up hope and continues to try to gain support among his colleagues. Still, he said, if he can’t build bipartisan support it might just get put on the back burner.

“If all I have is partisan support, then I’m not going to be pushing it as hard this session as I did last session when I had broad support,” he said. “It’s something that’s needed and I believe it’s the right thing to do. What’s unfortunate is those who have opposed us have framed this as a fracking bill, when it’s not. It’s a disclosure bill.”

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