Once in doubt, frack­ing ban glides to­ward ap­proval

Mean­while, fight brews over how to rate school suc­cess

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY JOSH HICKS AND OVETTA WIG­GINS josh.hicks@wash­post.com ovetta.wig­gins@wash­post.com

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 ga­sex­trac­tion 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.

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