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Shale drilling controversies — who's wrong, who's right

Published: Sat, April 6, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.

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A coalition of business, labor and political officials not only opposes a citizen-developed charter amendment for an attempt to ban fracking in Youngstown, but says the language is so vague it could prohibit anything from dry cleaning clothes to driving a car.

Also, if approved by voters on the May 7 ballot, the proposal would give authority to any city resident to “enforce this law” in court.

The law could be interpreted to outlaw aerosol deodorants, certain cosmetics, and existing gas and oil wells, said Alan Wenger, an attorney with the Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell law firm and chairman of its oil and gas practice group that represents hundreds of property owners.

“It’s just crazy,” he said of the proposal. “There’s no sense to it at all.”

Wenger is among members of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, which announced its formation Friday and its effort to defeat the charter amendment.

But Tom Cvetkovich, a member of Frack Free Youngstown, which obtained the needed signatures to get the proposal on the ballot, said the bill specifically points to fracking, and any claims of it doing more than that aren’t


“The bill doesn’t go as far as they say,” he said. “We don’t intend to go after other businesses or people.”

The coalition brought together an unlikely duo — Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Dave Betras and Tom Humphries, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer.

The two initially clashed during the 2010 gubernatorial election when Humphries backed Republican John Kasich and co-hosted a fundraiser for him over incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland. Among Humphries’ issues with Strickland was his administration’s declining to hire the chamber head’s company in 2007 for a state lottery commission contract.

That led Betras to pull his law firm as a chamber member with Betras saying co-hosting a Kasich event went too far.

Betras also criticized Humphries after the chamber board voted 8-1 with five abstentions and nine members not voting in support of SB5, legislation that restricted collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

“I’m standing with Tom Humphries so you know this is bad legislation,” Betras said. “If we say it’s bad, you know it’s bad.”

Humphries laughed and said he was going to say the same thing.

The chamber taking a stand against the city charter amendment is different from its position on SB5, Betras said.

“I opposed the chamber taking a position on a partisan political issues,” he said. “It was a fight they didn’t need to get into as it pitted Democrats against Republicans. They’re a private entity, and they were involved in a public-sector issue. In this case, it’s a bipartisan issue that directly impacts local businesses.”

While the intention may not be there, Betras said the charter-amendment language has “unintended consequences,” such as “arming private citizens to take the role of government to enforce laws against people who drive cars or dry cleaners or against V&M Star,” a company that’s invested $1.1 billion in a new plant in Youngstown to make steel tubes for the oil and gas industry.

“It’s crazy language,” he said.

The charter amendment calls for a ban on fracking in Youngstown.

The amendment language states the proposal, if approved, would trump state and federal laws on fracking.

City officials say the amendment isn’t enforceable because the state Legislature approved laws nine years ago to take over control of drilling from local governments. An Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman has said several times that the state has complete oversight when it comes to fracking.

The proposal is called a “community bill of rights.”

Betras said, “Who doesn’t want a bill of rights? Who doesn’t want clean air and clean water? But I’m telling you it’s a bad piece of legislation.”

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