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Hordes of people shuffled into the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday night to hear from experts in the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” industry.

The forum, which was moderated by N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, (R-50th District), was intended to address shale energy rulemaking, and exploration and development in North Carolina. The forum began with Lee County commissioner James Womack – who is past chairman and current member of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) – presenting a powerpoint describing the statutory guidelines from the North Carolina General Assembly, about the process the MEC is currently reviewing during the rule making process, and myths about fracking.

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A Wake County judge has cast down a decision that puts a hold on the N.C. General Assembly's attempt to move forward with its voucher program or the “Opportunity Scholarship Program."

The ruling puts state officials at odds regarding funding opportunities for private or religious schools through the proposed opportunity scholarships. On Thursday, Aug. 21, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the 2013 law that permitted the use of public tax dollars through opportunity scholarships – more commonly known as school vouchers – to pay for private institutions, was unconstitutional.

The ruling said, in part, that state funds “should be exclusively used for establishing a uniform system of free public schools. ... the General Assembly fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

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The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at N.C. State University announced a strategic plan for restructuring the centuryold organization by targeting its strengths, improving access to services across the state and refocusing resources to support its refined core areas. The Extension Service will implement its strategic plan during a 22- month transition period through July 2016. Dr. Joe Zublena, director of the Extension Service at N.C. State, presented the plan to Extension employees across the state via a webinar on August 12.

“We’re better aligning our resources and refocusing on three core areas: Agriculture, Food and 4-H Youth Development,” said Zublena. “These are the areas where we are most needed, best equipped to provide solutions, and can make the most impacts on North Carolina's communities and economy."

The Extension Service has experienced federal and state funding reductions of $13 million since 2008 and a total of $22 million since 1991. During that time, the organization has permanently lost 157 county and campus-based positions through attrition. Yet Zublena points to proactive, positive opportunities as a primary factor in the restructuring.

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Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon) invites the public to participate in a forum on shale energy rulemaking, exploration and development in North Carolina Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 6 p.m. at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts, 1028 Georgia Road, Franklin.

Commissioner Jim Womack, immediate past chair of the Mining and Energy Commission will be the featured speaker.

He will present:

  • Statutory guidelines from the NC General Assembly,
  • Mining and Energy Commission’s organization and rulemaking process,
  • What we know about shale energy deposits in the Triassic Basin,
  • Potential benefits from developing shale resources, and
  • Myths and urban legends about shale energy development (“fracking”).

Following Womack’s presentation, Senator Davis will moderate an extensive Q & A with the audience and an expert panel of guests who are familiar with the N.C. shale energy program, environmental issues, and related legislation.

Science-based, peer-reviewed handouts will be available. Also available for review will be DVDs, books, papers, and maps that provide authoritative information on the subject of shale energy.

Questions must be submitted in writing (blank index cards provided) and will be drawn at random for responses. No signs will be allowed in the building.

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