A flawed charter amendment

A flawed charter amendment

Now that the signatures have been tallied, an amendment to Youngstown’s charter seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city will appear on the May primary ballot. Supporters of the amendment collected 2,799 valid signatures, far more than the 1,562 necessary.

But at least two things will become clear over the next six weeks as voters become more familiar with the amendment.

First, this is not an amendment written to address issues exclusive to the city of Youngstown. It is well over 1,000 words of boilerplate that the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is happy to provide to any group that wants to fight fracking or other presumed assaults on the environment anywhere. All a local organization has to do is change the name of the city, which is what was done in Youngstown.

Fuzzy and unenforceable

Much of the language is so fuzzy as to be unenforceable. For instance, one section would give “natural communities” the “inalienable right to be free from unwanted invasions of their bodies by any means, including but not limited to, trespass by manufactured chemicals, toxins, pathogens or radioactive substances and their progeny.” And what is a “natural community?” It could be a familiar pond, forest or swamp, or it could, by one definition, be any “distinct and reoccurring assemblage of populations of plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, and viruses naturally associated with each other and their physical environment.”

Is it a good idea to make Youngstown government responsible for enforcing the inalienable rights of fungi?

The second thing that will become clear is that passage would put the city on a potentially expensive collision course with the state Legislature, which years ago gave the Ohio Department of Natural Resources “sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location and spacing of oil and gas wells and production operations within the state” unless that authority has been designated to the environmental protection agency. There’s no exception for city charters.

That may or may not be good state policy, but anyone who wants to change it is going to have to do so in Columbus, not Youngstown.

The prospect of widespread hydraulic fracturing naturally raises questions and concerns, especially about water and air quality. But an unenforceable charter amendment that wasn’t even written for Youngstown is not the way to address them.

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