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Wednesday, November 13,2013

Fracking bans have mixed success in other Ohio cities

By David DeWitt

Fracking ban measures were rejected by voters in two Ohio cities in last Tuesday's election, but passed in another. Meanwhile in Athens, a group of anti-fracking activists are continuing to collect signatures to put such a proposal to voters in May.

Voters in Oberlin, west of Cleveland, supported the measure to ban horizontal hydraulic fracturing, an oil-and-gas drilling technique, and related activities, but in Youngstown, in northeast Ohio, and Bowling Green, in the northwest part of the state, similar measures failed.

In Bowling Green, the vote on a charter amendment fracking ban was preempted by City Council unanimously approving an ordinance to do the same thing.

Critics from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, of Pennsylvania, which has been acting as legal representation for the Athens-area effort, noted in a press release that a charter amendment has a permanence that an ordinance does not.

They alleged that the Bowling Green City Council and Chamber of Commerce spread propaganda characterizing the charter amendment as a jobs killer and a measure guaranteed to hike residential energy costs by more than 80 percent.

"But the ordinance is subject to being rescinded by Council once the election was over," the release said. "These maneuvers succeeded in scaring voters away from a measure already enacted in Broadview Heights and Mansfield, Ohio, where none of the dire predictions of the Bowling Green elite have occurred. The CELDF was referring to fracking bans passed in those other Ohio cities.

While the Oberlin measure passed with nearly 71 percent of the vote, the Youngstown charter amendment was rejected 64.2 percent to 35.8 percent. Though this was the second time such a proposal was defeated at the ballot, members of the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee have promised to bring the measure back in May.

In their release, the CELDF said the Youngstown pro-fracking ban group spent a total of $693 compared to amendment opponents, who spent $74,449. This was confirmed in a report by the Youngstown Vindicator.

The local law firm, Lavelle & Associates, successfully defended a protest by seven residents of the local effort to put a fracking ban on the ballot in the city of Athens, with the Athens County Board of Elections sustaining their objection.

Lavelle's firm was unable to replicate that success in Bowling Green and Youngstown, though the measures ended up failing there anyway.

John Lavelle said Sunday that the procedures dealing with a charter proposal in those two cities were different from the Athens case, and the protests by opponents of the fracking bans were hence unsuccessful.

"But the voters saw the problems with the proposed legislation," he said. "That's the second time it's been defeated in Youngstown… The measures are extreme, and it's an area that is totally preempted by state law."

Lavelle noted that Ohio Revised Code designates the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mineral Resources Management as the sole regulator of oil and gas drilling in the state. Opponents have argued that municipal home rule should trump state law, and also claimed that the state law only came about due to campaign contributions and pressure from the oil and gas industry.

Lavelle said that because local fracking measures are preempted by state law, while these measures may be well intended, they are not well thought out.

In Athens, the local Bill of Rights Committee has promised to bring a revised measure to voters in May, having amended it to remove controversial language about the city's jurisdiction, as well as other changes.

Lavelle said he has not yet seen the updated version, but reiterated his point about state law.

"It's really a waste of time to go through the trouble of putting it on the ballot because even if it was successful, in my opinion it would never be upheld on appeal," he said. "And it would be very expensive and costly for Athens to defend that."

City officials have suggested that if such a measure were to pass, they would consider seeking declaratory judgment on it, as preemption to possible litigation.

Lavelle emphasized the importance of individual property rights.

Dick McGinn, spokesperson for the Athens BORC, echoed the statements by the CELDF regarding the measures in Youngstown and Bowling Green, likewise citing the relative money spent between the two sides, and the actions of the Bowling Green City Council, respectively.

He said that members of the BORC were out collecting petition signatures on Election Day and that the drive has been going very well.

"We had a big day," he said. "I don't have the numbers myself but it's substantial. We are definitely going to make it."

The group must collect signatures amounting to 10 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the 2010 gubernatorial election, which amounts to just under 500. These signatures must be submitted in January.

"I got 100 signatures all by myself (on Election Day)," he said.

Regarding what happened in Ohio on that day, McGinn said that the Youngstown and Bowling Green administrations and city councils had negative attitudes about the proposals.

"A charter amendment would've bound the city to the fracking ban, whereas an ordinance from City Council, they can pass another one the next day and revoke it," he said. "It was City Council acting politically to undermine the bill of rights and it worked."


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