Red Wolves Threatened With Return to Captivity — Take Action

wolf

The Friday before Labor Day weekend, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced an immediate evaluation of the country’s only wild red wolf population, living in eastern North Carolina. Ostensibly the review is meant to assess the ongoing reintroduction program — but it could fast become a convenient excuse for the Service to throw in the towel on red wolves and pull the whole population from the wild. In 1998 the Service gave up on a red wolf population it had similarly reintroduced to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We can’t let that happen again. A return to captivity would devastate this unique wolf species, whose numbers hover at about 100 wolves in the wild. It would also be a clear capitulation to the special interests that seek their elimination. Because of the feds’ rush job, we have only till tomorrow to offer public comment. Act now to show your support for red wolf recovery throughout the Southeast. http://org.salsalabs.com/o/2167/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=16427

Why Won’t Our ‘Environmental President’ Stop Fracking on Public Land?

By Cole Stangler

Barack Obama is apparently down with fracking. Photo via Flickr user IREX

It has become increasingly fashionable in liberal circles to credit President Barack Obama for doing all he possibly can to combat climate change. Praise reached especially dizzying levels in the aftermath of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposal of new rules to reduce carbon pollution from power plants this June.

The EPA plan is hard proof that our nation’s “environmental president” has “done everything within his power to fight the most urgent crisis of our time,” gushed New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait. Obama’s actions are “about as much as a president could do on climate change without Congress,” declared Slate’s Will Oremus. Even former President Jimmy Carter, never shy about launching the occasional barb at the White House, said as much at a recent energy conference in that most elite of hangouts, Aspen, Colorado.

One is free to bemoan the painfully slow rate of progress, the logic goes, but the blame lies squarely with Republican obstructionism.

The problem is that this is an awfully shortsighted (if not outright deceptive) way to measure Obama’s environmental legacy. It is no secret that major climate legislation—like a carbon tax—is dead on arrival in Congress, thanks to the pack of troglodytes controlling the House of Representatives. But as the president’s detractors and champions know all too well, some pretty significant environmental policy can be made directly by federal agencies. And on that front, the administration’s weak record speaks for itself.

Under Obama’s watch, coal exports have risen more than 50 percent. Federal officials have paved the way for oil and gas exports, too, rubberstamping massive liquefied natural gas export plant proposals and loosening the four-decades-old ban on crude oil exports. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is in charge of administering public land, continues to lease millions of acres to coal companies at below-market rates.

But of the administration’s many climate sins—and there are many—one stands out in particular: ongoing tolerance, and even support, for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public land. No other energy policy seems to so brashly defy climate science, popular will, and rudimentary political wisdom at the same time.

Oil and gas production is booming nationwide thanks to fracking, a drilling technique that involves injecting chemically infused water miles underground to crack open energy-rich shale rock formations.

“Fracking is opening up millions of acres of lands that were once not economically viable to produce oil and gas,” says Dan Chu, senior campaign director at the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America initiative, which opposes fossil fuel extraction on public land.

A Halliburton fracking facility in North Dakota. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Most fracking right now takes place on private land, but the industry’s gaze increasingly extends to federal turf, too. Frackable land in the public domain stretches from California and New Mexico to Michigan and Virginia. National forests and parks are in the industry’s crosshairs as well. Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest, Utah’s Canyonlands National Park and Montana’s Glacier National Park all sit on mouth-watering shale formations.

In 2010, as it became apparent the shale boom showed no signs of slowing, the Obama administration moved to introduce new rules for fracking on federal and Native American lands. (The rules were last changed in 1983, well before fracking became commonplace.) Now, nearly four years after its first public forum on the topic, the feds are on the verge of finalizing new regulations. And they’re pretty disappointing: highlights include such bare-bones measures as new well integrity reporting requirements and a loose chemical disclosure mandate based on a model bill from the Koch Brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The rules will almost certainly not include an outright ban or moratorium on fracking.

This is very bad news.

The proposal also makes a mockery of the idea that President Obama has gone all-in to fight climate change. To be sure, the BLM crafts its own rules, but as part of the Department of the Interior, the bureau’s staff and leaders respond to the White House. As lobbyists and researchers from green groups stress, it is highly unlikely that the BLM would implement rules of this magnitude without clear approval from the president.

Growing evidence has linked fracking to water contamination and an uptick in seismic activity near wells. (Last year, the fracking hotbed of Oklahoma had tremors 5,000 percent above the typical rate.) These risks alone should have led the federal government to outlaw the practice. But just in case the possibility of drilling-induced earthquakes in national parks isn’t alarming enough, one need only look at the impact on our climate.

Industry likes to depict natural gas as a “bridge fuel”—a necessary evil in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. And gas does have a relatively modest carbon footprint. But that’s only part of the story. Shale drilling generates large amounts of methane—a greenhouse gas that’s up to 86 times more potent than carbon. A recent Cornell University study found that over a 20-year period, shale drilling has a larger greenhouse gas impact than either coal or oil.

When it comes to the future of the planet, swapping methane reliance for carbon addiction is like choosing the firing squad over the guillotine—it’s better to steer clear of both options.

The stakes are obvious. If you take the threat of manmade climate change seriously, then a nationwide ban (like the one just upheld in France by that country’s Supreme Court) makes the most sense. Since that requires congressional action, halting fracking on public land is the next best option. It would be a modest gesture, as drilling would continue unabated elsewhere. But it’s good politics. A limited fracking ban might serve as a launching pad for future attempts to rein in the fossil fuel industry.

“On this issue, we really need some bold leadership and vision and that’s not what’s being provided right now,” says Mark Schlosberg, national organizing director for Food and Water Watch, which supports a nationwide ban.

Activists protest the export of natural gas at the National Mall in Washington, DC. Photo via Flickr Stephen Melkisethian

In this case, Team Obama cannot blame its inaction on public opinion.

In contrast to their elected representatives, a majority of Americans are against fracking, or at least have their doubts. A September, 2013 Pew study found 49 percent of voters oppose the drilling technique—an 11 point reversal from another Pew poll taken just six months earlier (a Quinnipiac poll from late last year found more support for the practice). These numbers fly in the face of the fossil fuel industry’s most cherished trope: the upper-middle class, urban-dwelling, out-of-touch environmentalist. For every Mark Ruffalo and Yoko Ono, there are dozens of ranchers, retirees and working-class people pissed as hell at out-of-state companies invading their communities and wreaking havoc.

On the other hand, a ban would be sure to roil another key constituency.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, says a halt to fracking on public land—as harmless and common sense as it may sound—would amount to a “declaration of war” on the oil and gas industry. “You don’t want to go to war with them,” he says. “You want to sign a non-aggression pact.”

Of course, these pacts are easier to make when Washington’s leading bureaucrats already sympathize with the plight of their negotiating partners. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell is a former oil and gas engineer. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz is a longtime champion of fracking, who famously conducted pro-gas research funded by industry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

When the federal government’s new fracking rules are put in place, peaceful co-existence with America’s booming oil and gas business will still be the name of the game. Don’t let Obama’s apologists convince you otherwise.

Cole Stangler is an In These Times staff writer based in Washington, DC, covering labor and environmental issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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National Week of Action Against The AETA

Sat September 6, 2014 @  Internationalist Bookstore & Community Center 405 W. Franklin St.  3 p.m.
Join us as we take part in a national weekend of action against the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) being coordinated by the Institute for Critical Animal Studies: https://www.facebook.com/events/803468656341400/.

Passed in 2006, AETA makes it illegal for individuals to engage in any activities that have “the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.” AETA is a key component of wider “ag-gag” laws that are being passed in states around the country.

Activists are speaking out against censorship for the benefit of corporate agriculture during events on September 5, 6, and 7. Our event will be on Saturday, September 6 at 3 PM at Internationalist Books & Community Center in Chapel Hill (www.internationalistbooks.org). It will feature presentations by several speakers and a discussion about how to respond to AETA with effective activism and advocacy.

The speakers will include:
* Anthony J. Nocella II, co-editor of such books as Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? (2004), Igniting a Revolution (2006), and the recently published book The Terrorization of Dissent (2014). (Mr. Nocella will be joining us via Skype.)
* Taylor Radig, an animal activist who was arrested for animal cruelty charges after filming undercover footage of abuses at a Colorado cattle ranch. (Ms. Radig will be joining us via Skype.)
* Robert Hensley, Legal Advocacy Counsel with the ASPCA.

PLEASE SAVE THE DATE AND PLAN TO JOIN US FOR THIS FREE EVENT!

 

Joining our panel will be Robert Hensley, Legal Advocacy Counsel for the ASPCA! He is based in Durham and will be at the event to speak about legal issues related to AETA and ag-gag legislation.

Report: Fracking contaminated drinking water wells in PA

hydrofracking fracking

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.

The Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday posted online links to the documents after the agency conducted a “thorough review” of paper files stored among its regional offices. The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests over the last several years seeking records of the DEP’s investigations into gas-drilling complaints.

Pennsylvania’s auditor general said in a report last month that DEP’s system for handling complaints “was woefully inadequate” and that investigators could not even determine whether all complaints were actually entered into a reporting system.

DEP didn’t immediately issue a statement with the online release, but posted the links on the same day that seven environmental groups sent a letter urging the agency to heed the auditor general’s 29 recommendations for improvement.

“I guess this is a step in the right direction,” Thomas Au of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club chapter said of the public release of documents on drinking well problems. “But this is something that should have been made public a long time ago.”

The 243 cases, from 2008 to 2014, include some where a single drilling operation impacted multiple water wells. The problems listed in the documents include methane gas contamination, spills of wastewater and other pollutants, and wells that went dry or were otherwise undrinkable. Some of the problems were temporary, but the names of landowners were redacted, so it wasn’t clear if the problems were resolved to their satisfaction. Other complaints are still being investigated.

The gas-rich Marcellus Shale lies under large parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio. A drilling boom that took off in 2008 has made the Marcellus the most productive natural gas field in the nation, and more than 6,000 shale gas wells have been drilled. That has led to billions of dollars in revenue for companies and landowners, but also to complaints from homeowners about ruined water supplies.

Extracting fuel from shale formations requires pumping millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemicals, into the ground to break apart rock and free the gas. Some of that water, along with other heavy metals and contaminants, returns to the surface.

The documents released Thursday listed drilling-related water well problems in 22 counties, with most of the cases in Susquehanna, Tioga, Lycoming, and Bradford counties in the northeast portion of the state.

Some energy companies have dismissed or downplayed the issue of water well contamination, suggesting that it rarely or never happens.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the main industry group, suggested that geology and Pennsylvania’s lack of standards for water well construction were partly to blame.

Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer said in statement Thursday that Pennsylvania “has longstanding water well-related challenges, a function of our region’s unique geology — where stray methane gas is frequently present in and around shallow aquifers.” He said many of the problems were related to surface spills, not drilling.

“Our industry works closely and tirelessly with regulators and others to ensure that we protect our environment, striving for zero incidents,” Spigelmyer said.

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Support Red Wolves: Contact FWS and Take Public Survey

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Announces Review of Eastern North Carolina Red Wolf Population

Eastern North Carolina Red Wolf Population Under Review

Consider taking this survey today and contacting FWS in support of wolf reintroduction in North Carolina.  Now is the time to make suggestions on how the reintroduction program can be improved.  Cancelling wolf reintroduction is not the answer, but consider asking FWS for the following changes:

The reintroduction program must stop killing (“euthanizing”) coyote/wolf hybrid pups. 

- Wildlife Resources Commission must start re-issuing coyote sterilization permits to the reintroduction program.  If WRC does not start issuing them, the program will resort to killing coyotes which is not a humane solution.  Coyotes and wolves both serve a similar purpose in the ecosystem here.  The top cause of death for red wolves is gunshot wounds. They should stop the killing of endangered red wolves instead of focusing on coyotes.

 

The Following is a re-post from Wolf Conservation Center

Originally published on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website – here.
Focus Group Sessions Scheduled
August 29, 2014

Contact:
Tom MacKenzie, USFWS
404-679-7291
tom_mackenzie@fws.gov and redwolfreview@fws.gov

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service awarded a contract to conduct a review of the Eastern North Carolina non-essential, experimental red wolf population to the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), of Cabot, Virginia. Founded in 1911, WMI is a private, non-profit, scientific and educational organization, dedicated to the conservation, enhancement, and professional management of North America’s wildlife and other natural resources.

The evaluation will be completed in 60 days by October 10, 2014. Under the Service’s contract, it will be peer reviewed and then used to help the Service determine the program’s future. That determination is expected to be finalized in early 2015. The evaluation will cover three primary areas: scientific, management, and public attitudes.

“Program evaluations are a normal practice to ensure optimal effectiveness and have been conducted in other recovery programs, such as the Mexican wolf recovery program,” said Leopoldo Miranda, Assistant Regional Director of Ecological Services in the Service’s Southeast Region. “Once we receive the final evaluation, we will review it and make a decision to continue, modify, or terminate the red wolf recovery program non-essential, experimental population in North Carolina.”

“The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission fully supports this evaluation to ensure the red wolf recovery program is based on sound-science and is managed in full alignment with the Red Wolf Recovery Plan,” said Gordon Myers, Executive Director, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “We are committed to assisting the Service any way we can throughout this process.”

“We are interested in the public’s perspectives regarding red wolves, and red wolf recovery efforts in Eastern North Carolina,” Miranda added. “As part of the human dimensions portion of the evaluation, the Service also asked WMI to conduct two public focus group sessions.”

WMI will host the first in Swan Quarter, North Carolina, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 10, in the Mattamuskeet High School Cafeteria located at 20392 U.S. Highway 264. The second will be held in Columbia, North Carolina, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 11, in the Columbia High School’s Auditorium at 902 East Main Street

Interested individuals may submit comments, concerns, or information regarding the Eastern North Carolina non-essential, experimental red wolf population and the program evaluation to the following e-mail: redwolfreview@fws.gov. WMI also is conducting a brief voluntary online survey that does not request any personally identifiable information. Interested individuals may submit input to either, or both. To access the survey visit the following link: http://jgassett.polldaddy.com/s/red-wolf-restoration-recovery-program.

Any comments should be submitted no later than September 12, 2014. This will allow WMI time to review the comments and ensure relevant information can be considered during the review. Comments received after that date will not be considered in the program evaluation.

Oppose Captive Deer Imports on Nov 8

State chapter of QDMA criticizes Commission’s penned-deer proposals

Group says regulation changes do not protect against Chronic Wasting Disease enough

November 01, 2012 at 8:18 am 

Craig Holt

 

 

 

The North Carolina chapter of the Quality Deer Management Association has criticized the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s proposals that would relax restrictions on the movement of pen-raised deer across state lines and within the state.

The North Carolina chapter of Quality Deer Management Association recently raised concerns about the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission proposed regulation changes that would relax restrictions on importing pen-raised deer into North Carolina and may open the door for Chronic Wasting Disease to enter the state.

The Commission unveiled several proposals (H23, H24, H25, H26, H27) – that are backed by the state’s deer-farm industry – during September public hearings that would allow easier transport of pen-raied deer, elk, moose or exotics into North Carolina.

Previous regulations, set up to minimize the risk of importing CWD, banned all imported cervids and even halted their movement from pen to pen inside state lines. The poposals regulation changes would modify or discard those rules.

The Commission will hold a Nov. 8 meeting in Raleigh to approve or disapprove captive-cervid proposals. Sportsman may comment at the agency’s web site by going to http://www.ncwildlife.org and following the links at the scrolling bar at the bottom of the home page. Continue reading

Bus from the Triangle to the People’s Climate March Leaving Sep 20

On Saturday, Sept. 20th, buses will be leaving from Charlotte and the Triangle, headed to New York City for a massive convergence (The People’s Climate March) happening on Sunday the 21st, two days before a UN Global Climate Summit. 

Want a ride from Charlotte or the Triangle? RSVP now!

Buses will drive through the night, reach NYC in time for the march, then carry passengers back home to NC, arriving some time late Sunday night/early Monday morning.  There will be stops for food.

If you’re interested, you can RSVP here. If you’d like more information, please direct any questions to me by responding to this email or at luis@actionnc.org

Action NC · Charlotte, NC 28212, United States

Ditching the Big Greens

 

 

Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda

 

by SCOTT PARKIN

 

“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.”

― Malcolm X

Somewhere between the Bay Area’s environmental non-profit bubble and multi-million climate march planning in New York City, 21 people in the Utah desert took action to shut down the first tar sands mine in the United States.

They’d been part of a larger encampment on the eastern plateau, where local organizers educated over 80 student climate activists about the Utah tar sands as well as trainings on organizing, direct action and anti-oppression. Utah tar sands fighters have spent the summer living in the area as a constant protest against Canadian-based company U.S. Oil Sands’ extraction efforts on the plateau. Every night, black bears raided the camp looking for food and every day local and state police agencies harassed the camp with veiled threats and innuendo derived through Facebook stalking. Despite the harassment and surveillance by the state, actions happen. This particular arrest action gained lots of national media attention and a number of larger environmental organizations put out statements of support of the activists. It also included a number of escalated felony charges on some of the activists.

Utah tar sands fighters living on the ground on the plateau, in Moab and in Salt Lake City live and breathe the campaign against the Utah Tar Sands. They strategize and organize it the same way that Appalachian mountain defenders organize the struggle against mountaintop removal coal mining. They live it the same way that the Tar Sands Blockade lived the campaign against the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in east Texas and Oklahoma. In all of these campaigns, it’s been an alliance of unpaid radical organizers working with local landowners and community members fighting to save homes, forests, water supplies and more. Furthermore, these campaigns have defined risk and sacrifice.

In Appalachia, after numerous actions on strip mine sites, coal companies filed lawsuits against those participating in civil disobedience actions. West Virginia law enforcement imposed huge bails to further deter actions on mine sites. In Texas, TransCanada sued numerous individuals and three grassroots organizations for over $20 million after the same sort of action. The Canadian oil giant also compiled dossiers on noted organizers and briefed local and federal law enforcement agencies with possible crimes and charges for stopping work on its work sites. Texas law enforcement obliged TransCanada’s hard work with felony charges and violent brutalization of peaceful protestors.

In each of these campaigns, bold and effective organizing against oil, gas and coal companies has created moments to stop egregious practices and projects at the points of destruction only to be abandoned or ignored by the larger environmental establishment. In the wake of that abandonment, hundreds of Appalachian Mountains have been leveled while oil flows through the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast, and ground is now broken on the first tar sands mine in the United States.

The liberal reform agenda of the environmental establishment continues to dominate the climate movement. Organizations sitting on millions of dollars in resources and thousands of staff are now engaged in a massive “Get Out The Vote” style operation to turn out tens of thousands to marches before the September 23rd United Nations’ Climate Summit in New York. Their hope is to impact the summit framed as U.N. Secretary General Bai-Ki Moon’s dialogue with global politicians on climate change in the lead up to the 2015 climate talks. Civil society’s demands include passing meaningful climate legislation and signing binding agreements on carbon regulation.

History continues to repeat itself as the environmental establishment had similar demands in Copenhagen at the 2009 climate talks. After spending millions of their donors’ dollars and thousands of hours of staff time, successes included an email campaign that got President Obama to travel to Denmark and personally witness the failure of those climate talks. Almost simultaneously, legislation to regulate carbon emissions failed in the U.S. Congress as well. After outspending the climate liberals 10 to 1, the political will of Big Oil and Big Coal remained unbreakable. Meanwhile, these same companies continue to drill, mine, frack, pollute, poison, build pipelines and burn coal in neighborhoods and communities from coast to coast.

However, there is recent precedent for movements to effectively confront power-holders that moves beyond traditional liberal solutions of compromise and polite advocacy with grassroots organizing, direct action and meaningful solidarity with communities seeking clean and just solutions to pollution and exploitation.

In 1999, the North American anti-corporate globalization movement partnered with peoples’ movements in the Global South to literally end business as usual at the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle. A grassroots spirit dedicated in solidarity with anti-austerity, human rights and environmental movements around the world spread like wildfire. Rooted in direct action, direct democracy and anti-capitalism of movements both in the U.S. and abroad, the global justice movement had been built over decades to stop the privatization of labor, environmental and human rights protections across the globe. The Seattle shutdown happened in defiance of Democratic politicians, Big Labor and other large organizations dedicated to reaching agreements with Corporate America in the WTO talks.

In 2011, after decades of pickets and strikes, of budget cuts, layoffs and evictions, the movement for economic justice in the United States rose to a new level as Occupy Wall Street began to occupy parks and public spaces across the nation. This happened after decades of politicians creating policies that benefited the rich and powerful while harming poor and working people. These occupations against the power of the “1%” created such a dramatic tension that the Dept. of Homeland Security coordinated a massive crackdown that ended many Occupy camps.

Throughout the Global South, they fight back against the polluters and the profiteers as well. In states across India, residents living near coal plants regularly engage in direct action and street fighting against authorities defending the right of corporations to poison their communities. In China’s Hainan and Guandong provinces, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in resistance to coal polluting their air and water. In 2011, Bolivia passed the rights of mother earth into law in defiance of companies in western democracies profiting from destroying the planet for financial gains.

While the liberal climate agenda is rooted in compromise with policy-makers and playing nice with corporations, a radical climate agenda must take the small disparate pieces of the existing climate movement and grow them exponentially to become a fierce counterbalance to the fossil fuel industry. It must include strategies that create an environment so toxic for the climate pollution industry, its executives, its politicians and the financial institutions that back them that business as usual becomes impossible. Furthermore, this agenda must be rooted in principles of justice and ecological sanity as well. Lastly, it must be willing to take risks, do jail time and say what doesn’t want to be heard by friends and enemies alike.

People are hungry to do more than send emails to President Obama asking him, once again, to do the right thing or march in a permitted march. Real change won’t come from professional activists rooted in the existing political and economic system; it’ll come from a mobilization of people willing to engage in risk and sacrifice.

Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

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Southern Forests Are Being Exported to Europe

http://www.dogwoodalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Dogwood-Alliance-FNF-Infographic.jpg

NC fracking hearings will follow strict ‘no talking’ rules for hearing officers

jmurawski@newsobserver.com August 8, 2014

  • Aug. 20, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center, Raleigh

    Aug. 22, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Wicker Civic Center, Sanford

    Aug. 25, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Rockingham County High School, Wentworth

    Sept. 12, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Bardo Fine & Performing Arts Center, Cullowhee

The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission spent Friday working out final details for four statewide hearings that will be the public’s last opportunity to weigh in on proposed fracking safety standards before the state’s fracking moratorium is lifted next year and drilling gets underway.

The commissioners advised each other to hold their tongues when talking to the public in the weeks leading up to the hearings so as not to appear biased on a highly sensitive issue.

The hearings, to be held later this month in Raleigh, Sanford and other locations, could be packed with hundreds of people lining up for their chance to speak for a maximum of 3 minutes. They will include a security presence to dissuade protests and disruptions, which are expected given the emotional nature of shale gas exploration.

The commission also extended a deadline for public comments to Sept. 30 as commissioners prepare more than 100 fracking rules for the state legislature by January.

“We’re going to get thousands and thousands of comments,” Commissioner James Womack said. “This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of what we’ve done to date.”

In an unexpected move Friday, the commission narrowed the format of the upcoming hearings in such a way that may create an impression that commissioners don’t care a great deal what the public has to say on the issue. For example, commissioners will not answer questions from public speakers, and no more than seven of the 14 members will attend any of the four public hearings.

The reason for the restrictions: The state’s administrative procedures establish different rules for public hearings and public meetings. A meeting requires taking minutes, requires a quorum and involves voting on policy decisions.

A hearing, on the other hand, is a way to collect public statements on an issue of public interest without any deliberations or decisions. If more than seven commissioners were to show up at a hearing, that could be legally construed as a meeting that is skirting procedural rules.

“This will be a public hearing, which means there is no response from any of us, about anything,” Vikram Rao, commission chairman, explained during Friday’s meeting.

The hearings will be run by three commissioners who will be called hearing officers. The hearing officers will introduce the proceedings by reading a statement from a script, which will be prepared ahead of time.

Up to four commissioners will be able to attend as audience members. To make sure no more than four show up at any given hearing, the commissioners will sign up on a schedule and agree not to come unannounced.

Even as they agreed to the format, the commissioners took turns expressing concerns that the public could find the process off-putting.

“We have to be mindful of the public relations impact this has and the political sensitivities as well,” Womack said. “There is an impact when you don’t show up at hearings or it’s perceived that you don’t care.”

Commissioners also noted that public comments about specific proposed rules will be more effective than general comments denouncing or endorsing fracking. They assured no comment would be ignored.

“The process is going to be: The hearing officers do not participate, they do not talk back,” Commissioner Amy Pickle said. “It is important for us to be clear about our openness and recapitulating that every single comment we receive will get all due consideration.”

Womack and Pickle will be hearing officers at all four public hearings, along with Ken Taylor, the state geologist.

After the hearings are held and public comments received, the commission will sift through all the remarks and recommendations and consider making changes in the proposed rules. The rules will be sent to the Rules Review Commission in November or December, then forwarded to the state legislature.

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