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St. Pete elected officials on list urging Senate to oppose fracking bill

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A bill aimed at legalizing hydraulic fracturing Florida, or fracking, died in the state Senate Thursday with a provision allowing it to possibly resurface. A similar bill has already passed the House.

While there was much back and forth during the long debate in the Senate appropriations committee, the close call vote came, perhaps, as a result of numerous speakers opposed to fracking and countless others who sent in correspondence opposing the measure.

Among those who gave the bill a thumbs down are St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council members Amy Foster, Darden Rice and Steve Kornell. Foster is the council chairwoman; Rice is its vice chairwoman.

The bill they opposed would not only make fracking legal in the state, it would also preempt local governments from imposing ordinances banning the practice in their areas. Cities, towns and counties are already backed up against a wall because of preemption clauses on issues such as gun regulations.

That’s a problem for St. Pete’s officials.

“Preempting local governments and nullifying existing ordinances infringes on the ability of local elected officials across Florida to protect their communities,” wrote both Kriseman and Foster.

Foster continued, “as a local elected official, I know and understand firsthand the importance of allowing local municipalities govern as we see fit for our communities.”

And Rice added to the argument against preempting communities from creating their own ordinances.

“Well stimulation can result in light and noise disturbance, traffic impacts, and air pollution,” Rice wrote. “Consequently, there will be locations where this activity is simply incompatible and no number of restrictions can adequately protect surrounding land uses and public safety In these cases, local governments must retain the authority to prohibit well stimulation.”

The group also took issue with what they described as some oversights into the bill’s language.

“SB 318 fails to capture all forms of well stimulation that could occur in Florida,” Kornell wrote. “The bill excludes operations where chemicals are injected under low pressure to dissolve rock and operations that ‘incidentally fracture’ rock. This narrow definition is insufficient to capture all techniques involving the injection of hazardous chemicals to enhance oil and gas production.”

The measure ultimately failed the Senate Appropriations Committee 10-9. It was there because the bill includes funding for a study determining whether or not fracking could be environmentally harmful in Florida. It would legalize fracturing before that study was completed.

Despite questions still lingering about fracking’s effects in Florida, many Republicans are still trying to push the bill through. A motion to reconsider means the bill could resurface in the Senate.

Environmental groups are keeping a close eye on what happens moving forward.

“SB 318 would pave the way for dangerous fracking in our state, putting the drinking water for 90 percent of Floridians and the Everglades in jeopardy. Today Floridians spoke up for their water, and senators listened. We thank the bipartisan group of legislators who stood up against dirty drillers and today, we’re celebrating,” wrote Environment Florida director Jennifer Rubiello in a statement Thursday. “But we’re mindful that this issue is not over yet. We’ll continue to work with our allies to defeat this reckless pro-fracking bill at every step of the process.”

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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