Environment

Fracking Fight Heats Up in Ohio

Environmentalist sue Ohio's secretary of state after he strips communities of the right to vote on fracking infrastructure projects.

Photo Credit: ProgressOhio/Flickr CC

With the oil and gas industry already reveling in a recent Ohio Supreme Court decision stripping local control on fracking and other extraction activities away from communities, the Secretary of State has now handed the industry another victory, opening the door for fracking infrastructure projects to spread even faster across Ohio.

In a decision issued August 13, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted blocked citizens from voting on Home Rule Charter initiatives which include provisions on fracking infrastructure development.

In response to Husted’s decision, this week the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Secretary of State on behalf of community members in Athens, Medina and Fulton Counties seeking to restore the initiatives to the November ballot. The complaint cites Article X, Section 3, of the Ohio Constitution which codifies the right of the people to vote on local Charter initiatives.

Ohio communities are being inundated by fracking infrastructure projects – such as frack wastewater injection wells and pipelines. Injection wells have been tied to earthquakes in Ohio, with fracking activities having major impacts on water quality and global warming.

Despite these impacts, Ohio communities have found their state government, rather than helping protect communities from frack injection wells and other infrastructure projects, is instead authorizing corporations to site those projects.  With the Ohio legislature legalizing fracking infrastructure projects, and the state Supreme Court ruling in February that the state has exclusive authority over oil and gas extraction (Munroe Falls v. Beck Energy Corporation), Ohio communities have been mobilizing at the county level to protect their health, safety, and welfare from fracking projects.

Anti-fracking activists protesting at the Ohio Statehouse, January 10, 2012 (image: Progress Ohio/Flickr CC)

In three counties – Athens, Medina, and Fulton – CELDF-assisted community members to draft county Home Rule Charter initiatives. Residents collected more than enough signatures to qualify the initiatives to the November ballot.

Efforts to keep the proposed Charters off the ballot landed on Secretary of State Husted’s desk. Already the Athens County Court of Common Pleas, in July, affirmed the right of the people to direct democracy through the initiative process, requiring the proposed Athens Charter be placed on the November ballot.

Husted’s decision, however, removed the county measures from the ballot. The decision was supported by the American Petroleum Institute, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. In his decision, Husted stated he was "unmoved" by the arguments of Athens, Medina, and Fulton residents seeking to exercise their democratic right to vote on the measures.

CELDF filed an appeal of the Secretary of State’s decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, on behalf of community members in the three counties. Attorney James Kinsman, stated, “It’s the people’s constitutional right to vote on initiatives. Mr. Husted – elected to serve the people of Ohio – is instead serving the oil and gas industry.”

Anti-fracking activists protesting at the Ohio Statehouse, January 10, 2012 (image: Progress Ohio/Flickr CC)

"Secretary Husted has set himself up as Ohio's censorship goalie," said Terry Lodge, co-counsel with Kinsman. "If the 'wrong' idea comes up for a vote, he alone can cancel the election. If the Ohio Supreme Court okays this arrangement, look for every future referendum that involves people vs. corporations to disappear through the Husted Loophole."

The right of initiative was designed to protect the people’s right to make law without having to receive approval or be interfered with by government. Secretary of State Husted, however, has determined that he is empowered to interfere with that right as he attempts to protect the oil and gas industry from the democratic decisions of the people of Ohio.

The appeal will be “fast-tracked” as an election case. A decision is expected from the Oho Supreme Court by September 15th.

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Tish O’Dell is the Ohio Community Organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Tish co-founded the grass-roots organization in Broadview Heights, Ohio, that successfully campaigned to adopt a Home Rule Charter amendment creating a Community Bill of Rights banning shale gas drilling and fracking.

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