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Fracking moratorium, ban bills both likely to come to Senate floor

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fracking-protesters

A protester is arrested Thursday at the Maryland State House. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

ANNAPOLIS — Competing bills that ban fracking or extend the current moratorium on the controversial natural gas extraction process are both likely headed to the Senate for a vote.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City and chair of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she believes a fracking ban would be vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan. Conway is the sponsor of legislation what would extend the moratorium on fracking that is set to expire in October.

“Both bills are coming out of my committee if I have anything to do with it.” Conway said Thursday. “If I stand here saying, ‘They’re coming out,’ they’re coming out.

“I’m not a proponent of fracking,” Conaway continued, “and when I said they probably won’t get a ban, it’s on the analysis that the governor will probably veto the bill. I told them the issue has always been you need to veto-proof your bill.”

Conway said the timing of when the bills come out will depend on whether her committee decides to amend either measure.

“I was looking for next week but I’m not certain,” Conway said. “It might be next week, it might be the week of the 24th and 25th, but no later than the first week of April.”

Hours earlier, about a dozen opponents of fracking were arrested after they blocked an entrance to the State House as legislators were arriving for morning floor sessions.

“This is a special issue that really rises to the top of moral importance to many of us,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “There is a right and there is a wrong.  We just feel you can’t do it safely, you can’t frack safely. To do it at all is wrong and harms people. We feel like there are sometimes in campaigns where you have to use every tool in your toolbox to get your point across. Sometimes that’s peaceful civil disobedience.”

Particular target

Tidwell said the demonstration was directed at the House and, in particular, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

“It is especially a plea to Senate President Mike Miller to recognize that, again, this issue has risen to a special category of moral concern and that we hope he’ll hear our appeals,” said Tidwell, who later said the protest was not aimed at any other individual senator.

Last fall, the group held a protest outside Conway’s Baltimore district office, claiming she was the primary blocker of a ban. Conway called the protest insulting and said organizers of the event had damaged any possible relationship.

Miller was shouted at by demonstrators as he arrived and he responded by waiving as he exited his SUV.

Miller, for his part, said the protest didn’t sway his opinion.

“I don’t respond to people jumping up and down and shouting and going to my hometown and putting up signs and stuff. I react just the opposite way,” said Miller.

Miller told reporters he would “support whatever the committee comes out with” but said he supported a plan that sounded much like the moratorium bill sponsored by Conway.

“I prefer a lengthy moratorium with a vote, let the citizens vote on the issue,” said Miller. “That’s what democracy is all about.”

The arrests Thursday were part of a planned, peaceful demonstration, and organizers sent releases notifying reporters of the intent of protesters to force arrests in order highlight their call to pass a fracking band.

The group held signs and sang “We shall not be moved.” Police ordered them to stand clear of the door to the State House. Less than a minute later, officers moved in with flex cuffs, arresting protesters, including Tidwell and escorting them to a van down the street.

Those arrested are expected to be charged with misdemeanor blocking entry to a public building. The crime carries a penalty of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The exact number of arrests is in some dispute. Department of General Services Police said officers arrested 11 people. A press release issued by Food and Water Watch, which organized the morning protest, claimed 13 arrests.