Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Dana Young's anti-fracking bill advances in Senate

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate reversed years of opposition to a statewide ban on oil and gas fracking and advanced a bill Tuesday that will prohibit the controversial practice in Florida.

Just hours after opening the annual legislative session, the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation voted unanimously to prohibit "advanced well stimulation treatment," specifically hydraulic fracturing, acid fracturing and matrix acidizing. The high-pressure process involves injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to release oil and natural gas from rock caverns deep underground. Environmentalists says it is too risky a process to allow near Florida's fragile aquifer.

The bill, SB 442, is sponsored by Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who reversed her opposition to a fracking ban last year, promising voters in her newly drawn Senate district that she would make passage of the ban a top priority.

"This has been a wonderful journey," Young said, acknowledging the shift in position since she voted for a House bill last year that would have regulated and authorize fracking beginning in 2017, after a state study.

She held up a chunk of Florida karst limestone: "It is fragile. It is porous," she said. "Florida is unique. Florida is special, and we do not have to be like every other state in the nation."

Opposing the bill were ExxonMobil, the Florida Chamber, the James Madison Institute, the Heartland Institute of Washington, D.C., the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Petroleum Council, which argued that Florida's ban would be the strictest in the nation, that hydraulic fracturing has been proven safe in other states and that it must remain an option if Florida is to meet its energy needs.

Dave Mica, president of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the state consumes 27 million gallons of gasoline every day, the third largest amount in the country, and most of the natural gas used in the state comes from the process of hydraulic fracking. "We have a shared interest in our industry to protect energy resources," he said.

Jake Kramer, attorney at Stearns, Weaver, Millers which represents Collier Resources, the company that has shown an interest in drilling for natural gas in Florida, warned that the measure "will be a lightning rod for litigation in this state."

Noting that large landowners will be forced to bring lawsuits against the state because the bill could deprive them of access to subsurface minerals, Kramer said the bill will open the door to lawsuits that claim the measure would qualify as an economic taking and qualify landowners for compensation.

But Young disagreed. She said the bill does not foreclose mineral rights and does not prohibiting traditional oil and gas exploration.

"There may be some uncertainty but the question is are you willing to roll the dice with the future of our state?" she said. "Are you willing to roll the dice with the future of our environment?" She acknowledged, however, that with a room full of "business lobbyists" opposing her bill, her attempt to ban fracking in Florida "won't be easy."

Meanwhile, as one committee attempted to ban fracking, two lawmakers filed legislation this week that would change state law and allow Florida Power & Light to charge customers, and profit from, speculative natural gas fracking.

The bill, HB 1043 by Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, is titled "Prudent Utility Investments in Natural Gas Reserves," and the Senate companion is SB 1238 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

The measures would overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling last year that said that Florida regulators exceeded their authority when they allowed FPL to charge its customers, not its shareholders, for its speculative investment in fracking operations.

In June 2015, the Florida Public Service Commission unanimously went against its staff recommendations and approved FPL's request to charge customers up to $750 million annually for the speculative natural gas fracking activities. FPL, a regulated monopoly and Florida's largest utility, then entered into a $191 million joint venture with PetroQuest Energy of Louisiana to explore for natural gas in Oklahoma.

The proposal, called the Woodford Gas Reserves Project, allowed FPL to earn profits of more than 11 percent from the investment. Although FPL claimed the investment would provide a long-term hedge against volatile fuel costs and save customers money, FPL revealed that the Woodford project had cost customers about $5.8 million and did not save fuel costs.

The Office of Public Counsel, which represents ratepayers in utility cases, filed a lawsuit arguing that the PSC exceeded its authority in allowing the company to charge customers for the speculative investment. The Florida Supreme Court agreed and, in a 6-1 ruling, ordered FPL to refund nearly $24.5 million to customers.

"Treating these activities as a hedge requires FPL's end-user consumers to guarantee the capital investment and operations of a speculative oil and gas venture without the Florida Legislature's authority," wrote Justice Ricky Polston. Justice Charles Canady dissented, saying regulators did have the authority to use the fuel clause to allow the company to make risk-based investments.

After losing in court last year, Florida Power & Light is now turning to the Florida Legislature to revamp the law.

"Natural gas is a proven commodity that brings rates down and so we are going to allow FPL to go forward with a proven technology to have these reserves so that we pay down the road," Bean said in an interview. He said his bill is intended to help FPL "do what's best for their ratepayers in Florida."

"I am looking to save the taxpayers and ratepayers money and there is proven technology that can lower consumers' energy bills," he said. "Do we have things to iron out? We do. And will not everybody agree? maybe."

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at [email protected] Follow @MaryEllenKlas

Comments
Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six candidates waltz into their seats as qualifying ends. The rest still have a fight

Six local candidates across Tampa Bay — all county commissioners and city council members — effectively won their elections Friday by default: No one qualified to run against them.The rest still have a fight.Some will square off in an Aug. 28 primary...
Published: 06/22/18
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Published: 06/22/18
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18