Friday, September 21, 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
Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

Dana Young, Janet Cruz spar over guns, schools, environment in crucial Senate race

TAMPA — During a showdown Friday in Florida’s most hotly contested state Senate race, Democratic challenger Janet Cruz launched fireworks at Dana Young over education funding, the environment and guns.Young, the Republican incumbent in District 18, r...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

Confederate group banned from Temple Terrace country club, may take legal action

TEMPLE TERRACE — After complaints from city residents, the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club has notified the City Council that it will not rent space again to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for its annual banquet.The country clubȁ...
Published: 09/20/18
Carlton: Should felons who have done their time get to vote? Citizens of Florida, it’s in your hands

Carlton: Should felons who have done their time get to vote? Citizens of Florida, it’s in your hands

It’s not often that we citizens — busy with work, paying the bills, living our lives — find ourselves with the power to right a fundamental wrong.But here in Florida, we’re about to get that chance.On the November ballot — among all those candidates ...
Published: 09/20/18
Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

Daniel Ruth: City owes Gonzmart and Princess Ulele more than a notice of code violation

This has to be height of bureaucratic pettiness, especially for a city whose track record in promoting quality public art falls somewhere between stick figures and finger puppets.Richard Gonzmart is a community treasure. As the force behind a number ...
Published: 09/19/18
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18