House members now say the possibility of a fracking ban is dead for the 2017 Legislative Session.
Sen. Dana Young thinks it’s premature to administer last rites, at least just yet.
“You never say never, but now we’re saying it looks like that will be next year,” Rep. Mike Miller, an Orlando Republican, told the Naples Daily News about his bill (HB 451) as the first month of Session ended this week.
The reason for the impasse is the desire by some House Republicans for a scientific study to determine the potential impacts of fracking. That echoes the 2016 legislation seeking to impose a two-year moratorium on fracking while a Florida-specific study was commissioned to assess the possible implications of the drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground.
That’s a bill Young supported a year ago.
And while the Tampa Republican maintained that it was, in fact, an anti-fracking bill, environmental groups and Young’s opponents in the Senate District 18 race hit her hard on the issue in 2016, prompting her to declare that she would introduce a clean proposal banning hydraulic fracking in 2017.
It was then Young sponsored SB 442, which immediately gained support from those same environmental groups who opposed her.
And with more than 80 Florida cities and counties already adopting ordinances or resolutions in support of a ban, momentum looked strong for such a ban coming into Session.
But Miller and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues say that a scientific study is required. Rodrigues has previously said that it would be “foolish” to ban the practice without any scientific evidence (neither Miller or Rodrigues returned calls for comment).
On Friday, Young said that she hadn’t spoken with House leadership; if they are interested in a study, she says they should still go ahead and push the legislation forward.
“What I would say is, move a bill in your chamber that has a study and a ban in it,” Young says, “and then let’s let other members in on that and see where we end up.”
Miller’s bill is co-sponsored by Tampa Democrat Janet Cruz, who said she thought with “Republican muscle” behind the bill this year, it has to pass.
“It’s absolutely incredible and amazing that the citizens of Florida, if you look at the numbers, overwhelmingly support a ban on fracking,” Cruz says. “Yet once again, we have a Legislature that continues to ignore the wills and the wants of the people to serve big business.”
With more than half the session to go, though, some environmental activists are refusing to throw in the towel on the prospect of finally getting a ban in the Sunshine State.
“The House bill that bans fracking may not survive, but the fight is long from over,” says Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters. “Nearly half the Florida Senate – Republicans and Democrats alike – have already cosponsored Senator Dana Young’s good legislation. Now Senator Rob Bradley has the opportunity to teach the House a lesson about how to best protect our water and tourism economy by keeping the ban moving in the Senate.”
With 18 co-sponsors of her bill in the Senate, Young says she’ll have no problem getting the bill passed through the Legislature’s upper chamber. She said then it’s up to the House to respond in kind.
Other environment groups are keeping the heat on as well.
On Friday, the environmental group Food & Water Watch held a press conference in House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s district, where they called on him and Senate President Joe Negron to follow “the will of the people,” says organizer Michelle Allen.
“I think towards the middle of Session, they start to say things like that,” Allen says of Miller’s comments that the bill was dead in the House. “We’re going to keep pushing.”
Food & Water Watch will hold another media event in Key Largo Saturday, calling on to bring Republican Holly Raschein to support the House bill the Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee she chairs.