Fracking Debate Should be Public
North Carolina’s new Mining and Energy Commission supposedly has the job of regulating the nascent “fracking” industry in the public interest.
Moore residents in particular have quite a bit at stake in this matter, since the upper end of our county is a prime target for those seeking to initiate that controversial method of natural gas extraction. It is less than comforting, therefore, to learn that for some members, the first order of business at the commission’s first meeting this past week was to see how many of its discussions they could keep secret.
According to a report from The Associated Press, two members of the commission repeatedly asked a lawyer for the state to explain the various ins and outs of North Carolina’s public records law. They are said to have been particularly interested in knowing whether they could keep their emails to one another private.
From our understanding of the law, which is intended to see to it that public bodies operate out in the sunshine, any official communication sent or received in the course of business, whether on paper or electronic, is supposed to be public. That means the contents of such messages are to be available for inspection not just by members of the press, but by anyone who requests it.
Maybe these questions were just an innocent attempt to gain clarification of an unclear piece of regulation, as some commission members claim. We hope so. But the very nature of this commission and the composition of its membership does little to encourage confidence in that regard.
The legislation creating the Mining and Energy Commission made it clear that the membership of that body was supposed to be divided between industry representatives on the one hand and environmentalists and public advocates on the other. But when leadership of the notably conservative and business-friendly General Assembly made the actual appointments, they filled some of the slots intended for fracking opponents with people whose views clearly leaned in the other direction.
Now some of those members seem to be thinking in terms of seeing how much they can conduct their communication behind closed digital doors, keeping the public they supposedly serve in the dark. That is not a good sign, and North Carolinians of all stripes should demand better.
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