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Senate Dems huddle up to oppose fracking bill

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After a fire alarm delayed the start of Wednesday’s meeting by almost half an hour, the Senate Democratic caucus finally got down to the task at hand: opposing Republican-sponsored legislation, particularly an energy exploration bill that has environmentalists up in arms.

The caucus members were united in their resistance to a bill they said would preempt local bans on natural gas exploration via hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking.”

Sen. Darren Soto came to the meeting fresh from a press conference in opposition to the bill, and said despite tweaks from last year’s failed effort to expand the controversial practice; the bill would still wreak havoc on Florida’s delicate ecology.

Soto said the Legislature has a constitutional duty to “protect the land,” which he said gives lawmakers broad authority to shoot down bills precisely like the one in question, SB 318 by Sen. Garrett Richter. He added some 18 senators, including some Republicans, have publicly announced their opposition to fracking, meaning that a floor vote “should be very close.”

The bill is up tomorrow in Senate Appropriations, which includes five Democrats including Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner. 

“What you’ll hear tomorrow is that if you’re against the bill, you support fracking,” advised one caucus staffer. He referred to the premise that the proposal technically limits the practice by triggering a one-year study of the practice, after which lawmakers could act on the resultant findings.

Environmentalists are against the bill regardless of the study, arguing it’s a Trojan horse that would reverse progress cities and counties have made in banning hydraulic fracturing outright.

A House companion bill moved much more quickly through the process, winning passage by the full chamber by a 73-45 vote back in January.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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