Is anyone else having a hard time taking the Bill of Rights Committee seriously? This is an Athens-based group that's seeking to ban oil and gas deep-shale drilling activities within a 20-mile radius of Athens.
The committee first tried to persuade Athens City Council to adopt the 20-mile ban on oil and gas "fracking" and related activities.
Apparently detecting City Council's justifiable anxiety about adopting a law that would get challenged (and crushed) in the courts, the Bill of Rights Committee now plans to submit the 20-mile fracking ban to Athens city voters as an initiative.
Some council members have expressed support for this heavy-handed fracking legislation, which makes me wonder how these folks got voted into office. Well, scratch that; this is Athens after all.
Nonetheless, I would argue that we should be very concerned to have elected city officials who don't realize the problem with telling people who live far outside the city limits what they can and cannot do with their private property. If there's a relevant parallel to this sort of municipal overreach, I'm all ears.
We should also be concerned about having City Council members with so little foresight as to not anticipate the impossibility (and absurdity) of sending Athens city enforcement agents into, say, Hocking County (within the 20-mile limit) to arrest or fine someone for sinking an oil well.
Perhaps the rudest aspect of this carnival sideshow in the eternal local debate over fracking is the committee's namesake, the Bill of Rights.
It's an absolute certainty that our forefathers – the bewigged dudes who drafted and signed the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights – would not have condoned one governmental subdivision trying to restrict the property rights of residents from another area, who had no say in the matter.
The Revolutionary War, after all, came about because American colonists recoiled against the British crown levying taxes on people who had no vote on the issue. If "no taxation without representation!" served as a justifiable rallying cry for American colonists, how is "no regulation without representation!" any different?
Make no mistake; this is not a manifesto against environmental (or other) regulation by local, state or federal authorities. In those cases, the government enacting and enforcing the law has been elected by the voters, or appointed by people who were elected by voters. I'm all for that.
Similarly, if the Bill of Rights Committee in Athens – or the Athens City Council – wanted to enact a fracking ban within the city limits, I'd have no problem with it. The state would have a problem, most assuredly, because of a state law that delegates all oil and gas regulation to state agencies; however, that's their problem, not mine.
So how does the Bill of Rights Committee come to the conclusion that a city or town can regulate drilling activities not only in the town, but as far as 20 miles away?
They cite a state law that seems to give municipal authorities the power to prevent pollution in streams that provide drinking water to that city or town. The law extends that jurisdiction – where the city or town can penalize someone for polluting its water supply – to 20 miles beyond the city limits.
The Bill of Rights Committee argues that horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, as well as disposal of fracking wastewater, out in Athens County and adjoining counties will contaminate drinking water that the city of Athens gets from the Hocking River watershed.
The problem with that argument is that the statute seems to apply to situations where someone is actively polluting the stream, not situations where someone may – or may not – pollute the stream at some point in the future (and then, only indirectly, with no smoking gun as to the person or company's responsibility for that contamination). With the fracking issue, you have a black-and-white dichotomy, where supporters say no streams have ever been polluted, while opponents suggest it's an inevitable consequence of fracking.
The truth (of course) is actually someplace in between. While stream or river pollution can occur as a result of nearby drilling operations, it's a rarity if the well has been properly engineered and drilled, follows regulations, and is carefully monitored and inspected by the state.
That's a big "if," for sure, and residents who depend on clean drinking water can be forgiven if they're not convinced that the company and state regulators will ensure that no contamination will occur.
That's why they need to lobby their state lawmakers for whatever level of oil-and-gas regulation (and taxation) they think is appropriate. That's the correct chain of command in our form of government.
The Bill of Rights Committee, however, would like to take an end-run around democracy, by having elected representatives in one small geographic area –the city of Athens – ban an industrial activity (and related real-estate activities) outside of that area, on the premise that it "might" eventually pollute the city's water supply.
Sorry, committee members, that's a fantasy. Your 20-mile fracking ban will never achieve lift-off, and if it does manage to elevate more than an inch or two off the ground, this screwball scheme will be shot down in the courts so fast your heads will spin like a high-velocity drill bit.
The result? Our proudly progressive community will become a caricature of lefty overreach, our own Buckeye State "Portlandia."
Athens City Council members who have indulged this doomed-to-fail, fundamentally undemocratic effort should be sentenced to a year of remedial civics lessons.