Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Fracking board under fire, Letterman takes shot at 'Dick' Burr

ENERGY COMPANY THWARTS FRACKING RULE: After more than six months of congenial meetings, the N.C. Mining & Energy Commission was set to approve its first fracking rule Friday, perhaps the most important of all the safety rules the commission will write to protect the public and safeguard the environment. The standard spells out which chemicals fracking operators have to publicly disclose when drilling natural gas wells in North Carolina.

But commissioners learned Thursday the proposal they had approved in committee in March is on ice. The problem: Fracking giant Halliburton has told North Carolina’s environmental regulators the rule goes too far. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is working to get the rule changed.

The developments raise questions about the independence and integrity of the Mining & Energy Commission, a panel created by the state legislature last year to create safety rules for shale gas exploration. Fracking refers to fracturing shale rock formations using high-pressure water and chemicals to release the natural gas trapped inside. Full story.

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QUESTIONS OF TRANSPARENCY: In the latest challenge to the commission’s autonomy, its chairman, James Womack, stunned his fellow commissioners Thursday with the disclosure that they will not be voting on the proposed chemical disclosure rule Friday as originally planned. “We’re anticipating some changes to the substance of the rule,” Womack said during a meeting of the commission’s Rules Committee. “We still have contention about the rule. Other commissioners were quick to protest. “Where is the contention?” Commissioner Charlotte Mitchell, a Raleigh lawyer, fired back. “Is this the way the commission is going to work?” She added: “There seem to be conversations happening offline and not in public about this rule that has already come out of committee.”

LETTERMAN NAMES 'DICK' BURR AS STOOGE OF THE NIGHT: Late night talk show host David Letterman named U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, as the "stooge of the night" Wednesday for his vote against tougher gun restrictions after taking a $1,000 donation from an ammunition manufacture. "As I like to call him Dick Burr," Letterman joked. "Remember everybody, there is no background check if you plan to buy a senator." See the video here.

TODAY IN POLITICS: The N.C. NAACP will hold a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Friday to announce the next steps of their plans to continue the ciivil disobedience that led to 17 arrests at the legislature Monday. Those arrested will attend. The group also wil hold a rally May 7 to further condemn the Republican legislative agenda. The N.C. General Statues Commission meets at 10 a.m. And the state's mining board meets this morning, too. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his daily calendar.

McCRORY ATTACKS MEDIA AGAIN: In a radio interview at the Wells Fargo golf tournament, the governor told "The Drive" that "the Raleigh media is so bad. The Raleigh liberal media is unbelievable. It's a different world." He didn't clarify which media he was talking about. Also: He said he hosts a Bible study group at 7:30 a.m. on Mondays at the mansion. The radio interview.

TILLIS AT ALEC: Speaker Thom Tillis missed Thursday's busy House calendar to attend the American Legislative Exchange Council meeting in Oklahoma City. Republican Reps. Jason Saine and Tim Moffitt also attended. Republican Rep. Craig Horn received an excused absence -- like the others -- to attend a National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) conference in Denver. Tillis is an ALEC board member. Taxpayer dollars were used to pay the conference fees, a Tillis spokesman said, per the usual policy.

McCRORY IN GREENVILLE: At a National Day of Prayer event with 400 people, McCrory offered thanks for the nation’s liberty and freedom, “especially the right to assemble and pray without fear of persecution." Full story.

STRATEGIST: DEMOCRATS NEED AN IDEA: From Democratic strategist Thomas Mills' blog: "Tom Campbell of NC Spin fame suggested that leaders should propose a $5 billion infrastructure program to address the pressing needs of our state. Democrats should jump on the idea and shout it from the mountain tops. … It’s big, it’s bold and, most of all, it makes sense. …Democrats desperately need a message besides, 'We’re not the crazy ones.'"

DUKE ENERGY CEO BACKS RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARDS: At a shareholders meeting, Duke Energy's Jim Rogers stood up for North Carolina’s green-energy mandate, which is under fire by legislators, as he argued for patience on expanding renewable energy. He touted Duke’s shareholder return since its merger last year with Progress Energy and depicted an “agile and innovative” company of the future despite its size. Rogers defended the state’s renewable-energy mandate for its cap on how much it can cost utilities and their customers, later telling reporters “it makes sense economically.” An N.C. Senate committee on Wednesday approved a repeal of the 2007 law. Full story.

FOXX IN SPOTLIGHT, UNDER FIRE: Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx issued a proclamation saying that Thursday was a “Day of Reason,” lending his name for the second consecutive year to a movement that emphasizes the separation of church and state. But the mayor – who is now in the national spotlight as President Barack Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation – was criticized on the Fox News show “Fox and Friends” Thursday morning. Penny Nance, of the group Concerned Women for America, suggested that the beliefs behind the Day of Reason are responsible for the Holocaust. Full story.

LEGISLATIVE WRAP: The state House gave preliminary approval to new income limits for the state’s preschool program that would make it off-limits to about 30,000 children who would have qualified under the existing guidelines. The House voted 62-46 to lower the family income requirement for N.C. Pre-K from about 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent of federal poverty level. This year, the federal poverty level is $19,530 for a family of three. Most of the children in the program qualify because they meet income guidelines, but the public preschool also enrolls disabled children and children whose parents are in the military, no matter the family income. More on legislative action here.

DIPLOMAS TO GET SEALS: High school graduates will have seals on their diplomas in a few years showing whether they are ready for work or college under new criteria the State Board of Education adopted Thursday. The new standards follow a state law and Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign promise to boost student interest in post-high school jobs. Students starting their junior year in the fall would be the first to earn the designations. Full story.

DESPITE AG'S OBJECTIONS, SENATE APPROVES LOANS BILL: The state Senate preliminarily approved by a wide margin a bill that would raise the interest rates for many consumer finance loans. But opponents of the bill won a concession Thursday – an amendment that reduced interest rates for the largest loans compared with what the original bill provided. The amended bill must be approved a second time before being considered by the House. Full story.

TURNPIKE AUTHORITY ON THE BLOCK: s Republican state leaders try to make transportation planning more efficient and less political, they will have to figure out what to do with the N.C. Turnpike Authority. Created in 2002 with orders to plan and pay for a list of bridges and expressways across the state, the Turnpike Authority represents the state’s biggest transportation innovation in decades. ... But the turnpike authority also has its roots in the old Democratic political leadership that no longer controls state government. And it is encumbered with the same fiscal and environmental challenges that have thwarted big infrastructure projects for decades. Full story.

TRANSPORTATION BILL LOADED WITH PET PROJECTS: Supporters of the proposed Garden Parkway won a surprise legislative victory Thursday, though one opponent vowed that “the fight is far from over.” The House Finance Committee added the parkway and a controversial Outer Banks bridge project to Gov. Pat McCrory’s transportation bill – over the objections of bill supporters and parkway opponents. By a 17-11 vote, the panel added the parkway, the Mid-Currituck Bridge and Cape Fear Skyway to the bill. GOP Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews, who’s pushing the measure, argued against the amendment. He said the projects, like other transportation proposals, would be reviewed on merit. Full story.

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