Exile on Jones Street: That’s entertainment

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

And you thought the legislative session was going to be boring.

Well, at least some people did. That’s because the media, myself included, said so at the outset of the session. And it was boring, real boring in fact — especially when everyone legislative stayed home huddling with their families while two and sometimes as much as four inches of snow devastated their districts.

After the thaw it was time to be not so boring, and in that department as well our General Assembly did not disappoint.

In just the past two weeks they have done so much to make up for that lost time it is hard to find enough snark left in the state to compose a column on their actions.

For instance, they managed to shoot down the notion proposed way back in 2010 that before a single fracking permit is issued, this state would have the bestest fracking rules in the country. Never mind that the people shooting down the attempts to tighten up the rules — or, in the case of air quality, even to have rules — were the same people promising to do their level best to ensure that North Carolinians would have their lands fracked under the best available management practices.

Nope. Instead, they passed a bill saying that the chief environmental oversight board in the state can call writing such rules a “meh” and move on. To be fair, the frackers will have to follow federal guidelines on air quality, except in the case of exploratory wells for which there are no air-quality rules.

Pop Quiz: Guess how they classify wells drilled to explore the potential for gas? Guess what are the only kind of wells we’ll see here during the exploratory phase of our new fossil-fuel future?

But hey, we’re just talking about highly explosive gasses being vented in somewhat populated areas. What could possibly go wrong?

And then there’s this thing I like to call the called the Mackerel Effect, in which everything will be going along swimmingly until a bright, shiny object hits the water.

Even though it is still early, this session is suddenly full of bright, shiny objects.

For example, in an agriculture-committee briefing Tuesday, a professor at NC State University whose degrees were detailed and whose authority on watershed issues was touted as cutting edge happened to drop a comment about climate change into a presentation about agricultural runoff and some new ways to target mitigation that will help both farmers and the protect the public.

Naturally, the esteemed members of the agriculture committee had little to say about the pollution issue and instead found it necessary to pepper this nationally known expert on water quality with leading questions about whether he thinks this warming is really man-made and whether his colleagues are all wrong and we are really about to head into another ice age.

When he refused to sign on to their take on things, and offered only the kind of answers you might find in a typical peer-reviewed paper on the topic, several representatives decided to go to lunch.

And then there was the ultimate bright, shiny object: the lawsuit by governors McCrory, Hunt and Martin challenging the legislature’s appointment powers for boards and commissions that do executive-branch kinds of things.

On Friday, a three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the legislature cannot just set up its own shop within the executive branch and run roughshod over anything they like. Far from chastened by the ruling, which included a comment that legislative branch’s arguments bordered on specious, House and Senate leaders said they would appeal and promptly put all the governor’s appointments on hold.

That may not be what voters have in mind when they say they want politicians to work together and get things done, but it sure does make for good copy.