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Ohio activists fighting to get community bill of rights on ballot

By Bob Downing Published: September 13, 2013

From the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund of Ohio on Thursday:

(Broadview
Heights, Ohio, September 12, 2013) As Congressional representatives meet to
debate military strikes against the Syrian government for targeting its own
people for toxic chemical attacks and Syria offers to surrender those toxins to
halt the atrocities, in Ohio there’s a clandestine, but well orchestrated
attempt by backers of toxin-laden frack drilling and poison injection wells to
block citizens from deciding for themselves whether State-permitted poisons will
be allowed to be pumped and dumped in their communities.

 


 

On
August 15
th,
the Athens County Board of Elections sided with seven residents who filed a
protest asking them to refuse to allow voters to vote on a Community Bill of
Rights Ordinance banning fracking. The Ordinance had been properly proposed and
petitioned, yet
without
explanation

the Board of Elections voted to side with the protesters. In effect, the County
Board of Elections vetoed the initiative process, and preemptively decided a
question that democracy demands be decided by City voters.


 

On
August 30
th,
a group calling itself the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and
Investment filed a protest against a proposed Youngstown Community Bill of
Rights Charter Amendment with the Mahoning County Board of Elections, asking
that the Board hold a hearing and consider its reasons why the Charter Amendment
should not be presented to the voters in November. Two members of the Mahoning
Valley Coalition are also members of the County Board of Elections. Despite the
fact that the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights Committee had collected
petition signatures certified by the City Clerk as sufficient to place the
question on the ballot, the Board of Elections scheduled the requested hearing
for Friday, September 6
th,
the last day for such an initiative to be legally scheduled for appearance on
the general election ballot. The Mahoning County Board of Elections gathered at
the designated time and place to announce that the protest against the
initiative had been withdrawn.


 

On
September 5
th,
with just one day remaining for ballot certification, the Wood County Board of
Elections was presented with a protest filed by a single resident of Bowling
Green, demanding that a petitioned initiative measure, a Community Bill of
Rights banning fracking, be kept off the November ballot. The initiative
petitions had been certified as legally sufficient by the Wood County Board of
Elections on August 13
th,
and the Sentinel Tribune newspaper reported the next day
“The
issue will be placed on the Nov. 5 ballot.”

The same law firm -- JPL Lavelle and Associates -- that filed the complaints in
Athens and Youngstown submitted the Bowling Green protest. This filing left less
than 24 hours for the petition committee to respond and seemed targeted to
deprive City voters of their right to the initiative process by making it all
but impossible to defend the measure from a preemptive veto by a single City
resident. None-the-less, the petitioners did file a defense of their initiative,
and on September 12th, the Wood County Board of Elections decided unanimously to
overturn the challenge and place the proposed charter amendment on the ballot
for Bowling Green voters to decide.


 

Background


 

Against
the consent of millions of Ohioans, the State government has green-lighted the
injection of chemical toxins into the ground, directly through life-sustaining
aquifers, either to force natural gas and naturally encased radioactive
materials to the surface, or to hide the backwash of poisons from such
operations in other communities by pumping it into the ground under our feet.
Meanwhile, state law-makers have busied themselves enacting legislation that
removes all local authority to govern the behavior of corporations involved in
oil and gas extraction. Placing sole authority to “regulate” these wealthy
investment magnates in the hands of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
(ODNR), legislators funnel “permits” that legalize the violation of fundamental
rights of whole communities to their corporate benefactors.


 

Ohioans
are beginning to understand that such legal chicanery by the State
illegitimately attempts to elevate regulatory law above the unalienable rights
of people and nature. But such corporate-subsidizing legislation cannot be
superior to and preemptive of fundamental rights, and communities like Yellow
Springs, Broadview Heights, Mansfield and Niles have already enacted Community
Bills of Rights that subordinate the legal privileges bestowed by the people on
corporations to their own governing authority.


 

It
is in this context that we find the current flurry of procedural attempts to
keep citizens from voting to enact their own Community Bills of Rights. Worried
that people exercising their right to self-government in their own communities
might decide that wealthy corporations should not be calling the shots,
frack-backers are busily working to stop them from having that choice. Their
claim: that only ODNR has State-recognized authority to govern gas and oil
extracting corporations.


 

But
Americans have seen this kind of procedural denial of rights before. A method of
government once rejected by American Revolutionaries has been resurrected by
some of the present-day political class. In place of representative democracy,
today we are offered what revolutionary colonists criticized as a “ministerial”
form of government, wherein all decisions affecting colonial communities were
made in advance by the central government, and the local ministers had only
authority to administer “superior” law, and no authority to make their
own.


 

When
the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the
signers included a list of reasons for declaring why they no longer owed
allegiance to the “crown,” aka the British Empire. The very first complaint
lodged against the empire was this:
“HE
[the empire’s King] has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and
necessary for the public Good.”


 

They
were not referring to state laws – there were no “states” yet. They were not
referring to national laws – there was no nation yet. They meant that the empire
was nullifying, or “preempting” local community laws enacted by direct
representatives of the people in the Town Meetings, County and Provincial
Assemblies and other community governing bodies throughout the colonies. As
evidence of this, noted historian Pauline Maier has documented over ninety local
“declarations of independence” issued by community governments throughout the
colonies prior to July 1776. It was these expressions of frustration with the
central government, and their complaints that necessary local laws were being
“preempted” by the servants of the empire, that inspired Thomas Jefferson’s more
famous “Declaration of Independence “in 1776.


 

Today
we see history repeating itself.  The servants of wealth and corporate privilege
have engaged in a campaign to thwart the self-governing rights of Ohioans who
try, within their municipal governments, to exercise the power of initiative and
referendum. But the people have not surrendered their right to community
self-government, and the struggle continues.


 

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Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

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Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.