Ohio Supreme Court keeps anti-fracking measures off ballot

©2016 E&E Publishing, LLC
Republished with permission

By Ellen M. Gillmer

Ohio’s highest court struck a blow to hydraulic fracturing opponents yesterday, refusing to put anti-fracking measures on the November ballot.

In a 6-1 opinion handed down yesterday afternoon, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that local election boards and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) acted legally when they rejected proposed ballot measures in three counties. The measures, in Athens, Meigs and Portage counties, aimed to turn local governments into charter systems with more control over oil and gas development within their boundaries.

Local election boards and Husted tossed the measures from the ballot, finding that they didn’t meet criteria for ballot initiatives attempting to change a form of government. According to the boards, the measures didn’t give enough information about how the new charter systems would operate. The court upheld the decision.

“Their determinations were consistent with our prior decisions authorizing election officials to determine whether a proposal exceeds the scope of the authority under which it is placed on the ballot,” the majority wrote.

“Moreover,” the opinion continued, “there is no indication that the boards of elections or the secretary of state attempted to thwart the principles of local self-government. They did not deny relators the right to establish a charter form of county government; instead, they merely examined the charter initiatives to determine whether they met the threshold requirements for inclusion on the ballot.”

Justice William O’Neill dissented, arguing that the expectation that the ballot measure spell out all the details of how a charter system would work is unreasonable.

“The majority would prefer that relators reinvent the wheel of government in one document,” he wrote.

He also suggested Husted and other government officials were bowing to pressure from the oil and gas industry, an accusation he has lodged before (EnergyWire, Feb. 18, 2015).

“The secretary of state does not have the power to veto charter petitions on behalf of the oil and gas industry simply because the citizens did not pick exclusively from the two forms of county government delineated in [state law],” he added. “This is a usurpation of power from the people that we should not indulge.”

Tish O’Dell, an organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a group that has backed the charter systems, said the decision blocks access to “direct democracy.”

“The people’s right to alter or reform their government is meaningless when the same government that the people want to alter, acts as gatekeeper, restricting access to direct democracy as they so choose,” she said in a statement. “Communities across Ohio are facing fracking, wastewater injection wells, LNG [liquefied natural gas] pipelines, and compressor stations. They are finding no remedy in their state government, and are turning to their constitutional right of initiative to protect their communities from fracking related harms.”

Supporters of the anti-fracking movement also noted parallels to the Dakota Access pipeline conflict.

“Any illusion that we live in a democracy is obliterated with this decision,” said Gwen Fischer, an activist from Portage County. “Will we go home and just accept the toxins in our communities? No. We will fight for our rights. As the Standing Rock indigenous fight for water, we do, as well. This is a fight to safeguard our air, our water, our health, our communities, today and for future generations.”

Industry representatives, meanwhile, framed the news as a win for taxpayers.

“Ohio’s courts have made it clear what the law says statewide, and over 83% of these ballot measures have failed outright or been ruled invalid at the local level,” said Jackie Stewart, Ohio director for Energy in Depth, in an email. “Yet out of state groups like the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) continue these frivolous lawsuits. It is Ohio taxpayers who ultimately have to pay for CELDF’s anti-fracking campaign.”

Reprinted from EnergyWire with permission from E&E Publishing, LLC. Copyright 2016. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environment news at www.eenews.net. Click here for the original story.

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