- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The North Carolina House completed work Tuesday on a cleanup spending bill for this fiscal year, but not before voting down a provision originally inserted by the chamber’s majority leader related to fracking.

The House gave its final approval to the measure, which contains $275,000 to run a state panel working to change academic standards and to ensure special funds to pay for state officials working to clean up coal ash ponds.

Trouble came for Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, when colleagues voted to reconsider a floor amendment he offered Monday that passed with little debate.

The provision would have given the option for the Environmental Management Commission not to create its own rules related to air pollution created by fracking should it determine federal or state air toxic regulations are adequate. Environmental advocates said Tuesday the amendment would have weakened protections because current law fails to adequately address the toxics.

On the floor, lawmakers from both parties urged the amendment be defeated. Some said they hadn’t understood the provision previously or that it should have been put in another bill for debate. “I don’t view this as a technical amendment by any stretch of the imagination,” said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson. “It should not have been brought up here.”

Hager defended the provision as an improvement for the commission and blamed fracking opponents for fighting it. “It’s about folks that don’t like energy exploration,” he said.

The House voted down the amendment 77-41, as more than 30 Republicans joined all Democrats present in voting no. After a House Republican caucus meeting, the chamber reconvened and passed the bill without Hager’s amendment by a near-unanimous margin. The measure now returns to the Senate, which passed a version last month.

Hager told reporters later he didn’t know whether he would try to move his proposal as a stand-alone bill. Applications for North Carolina’s first fracking permits could be offered soon, since rules from the state Mining and Energy Commission for the chemical-injection process to collect inland natural gas may be finalized later this month.

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