Maryland is on track to become the third state in the nation to ban hydraulic fracturing, after the Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a House bill that would prohibit the controversial gas-extraction method.
The legislation is expected to face a final vote in the Senate on Monday before advancing to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who endorsed it this month in a move that surprised advocates and disappointed pro-fracking Republican lawmakers from Western Maryland.
Meanwhile, a major fight is brewing between Hogan and the Democratic-majority legislature over an education-accountability bill that the governor is threatening to veto.
At a news conference Friday morning, Hogan called the bill, which has been approved by the House and is awaiting action in the Senate, “one of the most outrageous and irresponsible moves” taken by the General Assembly.
The measure is the legislature’s response to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows state boards of education to determine how schools should be rated to determine performance. It would force the Maryland State Board of Education to reduce the weight of some academic markers, including standardized testing, and prohibit the state from turning a low-performing neighborhood school into a charter school.
The bill has strong backing from the Maryland State Educators Association but is opposed by the State Board of Education.
Hogan, a charter school proponent, said the bill would eliminate an opportunity to move beyond “outdated practices and to embrace innovative strategies that are producing results across the country.” Citing a legislative analysis, Hogan also said the bill could put $250 million in federal funding in jeopardy. But its supporters said the proposal adheres to all federal rules.
Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, dismissed Hogan’s comments as “political rhetoric.”
“We all want better schools and we all want to make sure every kid has access to a great education every single day, but there are other options than just privatizing schools,” he said.
The fracking bill needs support from 24 Senate lawmakers to pass; 23 have already signaled their support by sponsoring a companion measure in their chamber.
The fate of the legislation was in doubt before Hogan’s endorsement, with advocates convinced that the Senate environmental committee chair, Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore), would not allow her panel to vote on the proposal unless it had at least 29 Senate votes, a veto-proof majority.
Hogan had previously said he would support hydraulic fracturing in Maryland if it could be done in a way that wouldn’t seriously harm the environment and public health. On March 17, he said he was no longer convinced that was possible.
Fracking, as the extraction method is known, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground at high pressure to break up rock and release natural gas. Advocates say the practice provides a cleaner energy source than coal, but opponents have raised concerns about the potential for water contamination, greenhouse-gas emissions and earthquakes.
Garrett and Allegany counties have the greatest potential for fracking in Maryland, due to their location along the massive Marcellus Shale rock formation, which gas companies have tapped extensively in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
New York and Vermont are the other states that have banned fracking, with an executive order and with legislation, respectively.
Also on Friday, the Senate unanimously approved an emergency bill establishing an independent safety agency to oversee Metro. Last month the federal government began withholding millions of dollars from Maryland, Virginia and the District because they missed a deadline to create the agency.
The Senate gave final approval to a bill that makes it a civil offense to carry a gun on public college campuses. The measure now heads to the House.
The Senate also passed a measure that increases the window of time a victim of child sexual abuse has to file a lawsuit, from seven years after reaching adulthood to 20 years.
Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) thanked Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), the bill’s sponsor, for having the courage to share his own experience of being abused as a child as he pushed for the measure over the years.