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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – After an intense debate spread over two days, the Florida House on Wednesday approved a bill that would revamp regulation of the controversial oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.”
The bill, in part, would bar local governments from imposing moratoriums on fracking, while requiring the state Department of Environmental Protection to undertake a wide-ranging study that would include looking at potential risks and economic benefits of the process.
Also Wednesday, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill (HB 509) that would prevent local governments from regulating app-based transportation services such as Uber and Lyft. The House voted 108-10, after no debate, to send the proposal to the Senate, which has taken a different stance on addressing the fast-growing industry.
The bill (HB 191) dealing with oil and gas drilling spurred heavy debate Tuesday and Wednesday and passed in a 73-45 vote that was nearly along party lines. Republicans Halsey Beshears of Monticello, Chris Latvala of Clearwater, Mike Miller of Winter Park, Holly Raschein of Key Largo, Greg Steube of Sarasota, Jay Trumbull of Panama City and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights crossed party lines to vote against the measure.
Supporters of the bill point, in part, to efforts to gain energy independence. Also, they say oil and natural-gas drilling has taken place in parts of Northwest Florida and Southwest Florida for decades.
Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican who has helped sponsor the bill, said the measure includes safeguards, such as the Department of Environmental Protection study. After conducting the study, the department would develop proposed fracking rules, which would have to be ratified by the Legislature.
“Wishing for a zero-risk process or some absolute safety is not possible,” Pigman, a physician, said. “I acknowledge that oil and natural-gas production is an untidy process. So is all of mining, so is farming, so is industry, yet our society needs energy, we need food and we need the finished products made from natural resources.”
But Democrats railed against the bill, with Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, saying it would put out a “welcome mat” for fracking. The process, more formally known as hydraulic fracturing, has spurred controversy across the country, with critics arguing it can lead to problems such as contamination of water supplies and earthquakes.
“Why would we even want to consider a bill that is going to potentially poison our drinking water? What we’re doing is we’re injecting toxic fluids in the ground,” Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton said. “What’s wrong with us here? I mean, something’s going on. And you know what’s going on, this fracking bill is really called the anything for money bill.”
Democrats also pointed to numerous local governments that have voted to prohibit fracking in their communities. Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, read a list of counties scattered throughout the state.
“Our county scientists in Broward as well as Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County and beyond have looked at this issue and have determined that fracking is not a good thing, it is not a good thing for our state,” Jacobs said.
Rep. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who has sponsored the bill, said he recognizes that the proposal is in a “center of a storm of controversy.” But he pointed to historical examples such as Florida allowing electricity in homes, clearing the way for automobiles and being home to the space industry.
“If you look at our history, challenges and controversies have always confronted this chamber, and the choices have always been the same — are we going to react with fear, are we going to react with pessimism or are we going to be cynical? Or are we going to react with courage, are we going to react with optimism, and are we going to seek the ideal?’ Rodrigues said.
A similar Senate bill (SB 318), sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has been approved by two committees and awaits a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The House bill dealing with ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft also had spurred debate before Wednesday.
The House has sought to prevent local regulations on the industry, with Republican leaders viewing their proposal as “cutting red tape.” The Senate, meanwhile, has taken a narrower approach that focuses on requiring insurance coverage for ride-sharing drivers.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who has sponsored the House version, said he thinks the measure will eventually get through the Senate.
“I’m optimistic that Floridians will be able to use companies like Uber and Lyft as a result of legislation that will either pass this year or next year, but it will not take any longer than that,” Gaetz said.
The Senate proposal (SB 1118) is focused on setting insurance coverage for times when Uber or Lyft drivers have passengers in the vehicles, are traveling to pick up passengers or are logged on to the services while waiting for customers.
The House approach has drawn opposition from the taxicab industry, which faces local regulations and fears it could be at a competitive disadvantage if the House bill passes.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders and Jim Turner contributed to this report.