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NC Senate approves environment omnibus bill

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

Grab-bag legislation overhauling some of North Carolina's environmental rules - including those for fluids used in hydraulic fracturing and the state's restaurant smoking ban - moved through the state Senate on Wednesday.
    
The Senate voted 30-11 in favor of its changes to a House bill that now runs 42 pages after senators expanded it. The legislation received tentative approval Tuesday with several amendments and now returns to the House, which can agree to accept the Senate changes or send the bill to a conference committee.
    
One amendment attempts to clarify how a state energy panel creating rules for future fracking operations can examine a company's confidential information about the fluid they inject into the ground to extract natural gas.
    
The bill now directs the state Mining & Energy Commission to create rules so that the panel and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources can "review, but not possess or take ownership of" information related to chemicals and other ingredients in fracking fluids designated as company trade secrets.
    
The amendment also directs the panel to create rules requiring disclosure to the public of the "chemical families" or similar descriptions of fluid ingredients through an online registry. The amendment's sponsor, Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, likened the changes to Coca-Cola disclosing their ingredients on a can, but not the soda's formula.
    
The Mining & Energy Commission voted last week to write legislative leaders in protest of last week's version of the bill, which members said would have removed public disclosure of the chemicals.
    
North Carolina state Sierra Club director Molly Diggins said the amended measure has created confusion, seems unworkable and could make it difficult for state agencies to respond to emergencies. Fracking opponents worry the fluids and other contaminated liquids could seep into groundwater.
    
Another amendment directs the Commission for Public Health to implement by January more rules for the 2010 smoking ban in bars and restaurants to ensure they are enforced uniformly statewide. Some senators said they've heard complaints that the law was being enforced unevenly, depending on the county.

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