Environmental groups sue to block ‘unconstitutional’ new law allowing fracking in Ohio state parks

“This is a clear example of the Ohio legislature ignoring constitutional requirements that are in place to ensure Ohio citizens can participate in the legislative process."

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SOURCEEcoWatch

Environmental and community groups in Ohio have filed a preliminary injunction to stop the leasing of public lands — including state parks — to the oil and gas industry.

Ohio HB 507, which redefines methane gas as “green energy” and requires state parks to lease their lands for fracking, went into effect on April 7. Originally an agricultural bill with its focus on poultry, the law was quickly expanded to include granting petrochemical, agricultural and fracking rights to industry.

The groups oppose the law on a constitutional basis, in addition to their objection to the obligatory leasing of public lands for fracking, a press release from Earthjustice and the Sierra Club said.

Earthjustice is representing Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Allies and Buckeye Environmental Network in the lawsuit. Attorneys from Earthjustice and Case Western Reserve University Environmental Law Clinic are representing the Ohio Environmental Council, along with the organization’s own attorneys.

“It is because of the grassroots efforts of Ohioans who were shocked at the underhanded way the legislators passed an illegal amendment during the last weeks of the General Assembly in 2022, that we are filing this lawsuit today,” said Cheryl Johncox, board chairperson of the Buckeye Environmental Network, according to the press release. “Ohioans love their parks and forest lands and will not tolerate lawmakers turning blind eyes to what will happen to the beauty and integrity of the lands that belong to the people. Oil and gas extraction will irrevocably and permanently harm our most treasured places in Ohio. We, the people, will not stand by and allow this to happen.” 

The unrelated, eleventh-hour additions to what was originally a poultry bill made their way through the chambers of the Ohio State Senate without discussion during a lame duck session. Over demands to veto the controversial bill, it was signed into law by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on January 6, 2023.

“This law is nothing more than an illegitimate giveaway to the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Megan Hunter in the press release. “We will defend Ohio’s public lands from this unconstitutional attack. We will see the state in court.”

State parks in Ohio are already being staked out by oil and gas companies, who have requested leases, which the bill takes away the state’s right to deny. The law doesn’t even have any requirements for an auction to take place or for the leases to be given to the highest bidder. It just requires that the state grant the leases to any interested party that has financial assurances, insurance and has registered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Governor DeWine has declared there will be no surface disruption on public lands, and the industry is claiming their operations can be done without impacting the surface. Yet HB 507 allows oil and gas companies to negotiate an agreement which allows for surface impacts, such as frack pads, pipelines, access roads, timber removal, and water usage on our public lands,” said Jill Hunkler, executive director of Ohio Valley Allies, in the press release. “This must not be allowed to occur. Is the short term monetary gain from fracking operations worth the destruction of our public lands and parks that consistently and significantly enrich our state budget?  The answer is absolutely not.”

Under the bill, residents of Ohio will not receive public notice on the specific lands that will be leased and will be denied opportunity for public comment.

“We as Ohioans deserve to have our voices heard when the future of our state parks is on the line. The vitality of our public lands is essential to our own well-being,” said Nathan Johnson, attorney and public lands director for the Ohio Environmental Council, in the press release. “The OEC files this lawsuit today to defend Ohio’s best places from a dirty industry power grab.”

The basis of the claim that the law is unconstitutional is that an Ohio state rule says each bill can only have one subject, which is clearly not the case with HB 507. Additionally, the state’s three considerations clause makes it clear that bills need to be brought up for consideration three times before they are voted upon. But the general assembly considered the bill’s final version — which contained the mandatory provision on leasing public lands — just once in each house.

“This is a clear example of the Ohio legislature ignoring constitutional requirements that are in place to ensure Ohio citizens can participate in the legislative process, and if allowed to continue unchecked, could affect even more than Ohio’s cherished state parks and public lands,” said Miranda Leppla, director of Case Western Reserve University Environmental Law Clinic, in the press release. “The Case Western Environmental Law Clinic looks forward to holding the state accountable to the requirements of our democratic processes and protecting Ohio state lands for future generations.”

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