North Carolina Legislature Overrides Veto, Legalizes Fracking

Published August 2, 2012

The North Carolina legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Bev Perdue (D), making natural gas production through hydraulic fracturing legal in the Tar Heel State. 

Political Thriller

The Senate easily mustered the three-fifths supermajority needed to override Perdue’s veto. The House, however, overrode Perdue’s veto by a single vote. Immediately after the vote, Assemblywoman Becky Carney (D-Mecklenburg) claimed she had intended to vote to sustain Perdue’s veto but mistakenly hit the wrong button during the vote. 

Perdue claims she would support hydraulic fracturing if there were more guarantees of environmental safety, particularly regarding groundwater. Legislative supporters of hydraulic fracturing point out federal, state, and local environmental officials have conducted thousands of tests on groundwater near hydraulic fracturing sites and have yet to find a single instance of groundwater pollution.

Carney spent months voicing opposition to the fracking bill, only to become the final, decisive vote to override Perdue’s veto. Carney asked for a suspension of legislative rules so she could vote again, but House leadership denied her request for a do-over.

“Gov. Perdue did the right thing by vetoing the rush to frack,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina. “She stood up for our water and our air. It’s bad enough that the General Assembly overrode her veto. It’s even worse that they did so based on an accidental vote.”

Not Much Changed

Environmental safeguards in the legislation ensure fracking is at least a couple years away in North Carolina.

“This just opens the door to fracking a little bit wider,” said Becki Gray, vice president for outreach at the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation. “Nothing can be done for two years at least. [Any fracking request] also has to come back to the legislature for approval. This just allows the process to go on to the next level.”

Governor’s Shifting Positions

So far, the process has been “very interesting,” according to Gray. Months ago, Perdue had taken a public stance in favor of fracking, only to be swayed seemingly at the last minute to strike down the bill. In May she had issued an executive order detailing her support for fracking, so long as it upheld environmental and health standards and didn’t pose a threat to public safety.

On the day of her veto, however, Perdue said, “I support energy policies that create jobs and lower costs for businesses and families. Our drinking water and the health and safety of North Carolina’s families are too important. We can’t put them in jeopardy by rushing to allow fracking without proper safeguards.”

Republican lawmakers called Perdue a flip-flopper and expressed surprise at the veto. They pointed out they had compromised in drafting the legislation to include the governor’s recommendations on clean energy alternatives.

Gray said pressure from environmental activist groups and other special interests likely forced Perdue to rescind her support and exercise the veto.

“As this bill continued to develop through the General Assembly, we had anticipated that—given the governor’s statements—it would not be vetoed. Yet she did. And the pressure obviously came from the environmental community,” Gray said.

Cheryl Chumley, [email protected], is a digital editor with The Washington Times’ newest endeavor,