In a great victory for environmentalists and the people of Ohio, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down a provision that restricted citizen’s efforts to vote locally on banning fracking.
The ruling is a turn around from earlier rulings that prevented residents from placing county charters and a city ordinance to ban fracking from appearing on ballots.
In 2015, after the movement against fracking had progressed enough to include new county charters to elevate the rights of local residents and ecosystems, the Supreme Court ruled that the state has “exclusive authority” over oil and gas drilling. This meant cities and counties no longer had the right to ban or regulate fracking through any restrictions.
Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted supported the ruling, claiming he had “unfettered authority” to remove county charters from ballots, even if the people had gathered enough signatures. And it’s no wonder, as Husted is deeply tied to the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, who fundraise for him.
Since 2015, Husted and his team of appointed county boards of elections, along with the state Supreme Court, have removed 10 proposed fracking-related county charters from Ohio ballots.
Earlier this year, the city of Youngstown, Ohio spent $185,000 promoting anti-hydraulic fracking ballot measures, regardless of the state’s law. Even though city lawyers deemed that any regulation or ban that was passed with a vote would “not be enforceable,” the environmentalist group Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, are pushing on.
Together with several local community groups, environmentalists have also advanced county charters in Athens and Medina counties, and ballot initiatives in Bowling Green as well as Youngstown. They are calling them the “Community Bills of Rights” and they call for a complete outlaw of fracking, injection wells, and related infrastructure for producing and transporting natural gas.
Each of the initiatives require a certain number of signatures in order to get on the ballot. But so far, in every place except for Bowling Green, the initiatives have been removed by the boards of elections. Bowling Green’s board is allowing people to vote on the initiative first.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled against the environmentalists in every city and county except for Bowling Green. There, because of the vote that was allowed, the Supreme Court had to look at the constitutionality of HB463, the legislation that allowed for boards of elections to remove municipal initiatives from ballots. The Court ruled that the section of HB463 that applied to municipal ballot initiatives was unconstitutional.
This is a great step in the right direction, but it isn’t perfect. The court did not rule the section of HB463 that allowed for boards of elections to remove initiatives from county charters was unconstitutional, leaving the future of proposed county charters uncertain. And likely any hearings and decision on that matter will take months, if not years, leaving Ohio counties without the power to fight against fracking.