In the May primary, the charter amendment to prohibit fracking in the city of Youngstown lost by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent — and the proponents refused to accept the result. They argued that so few city voters went to the polls the outcome really didn’t count. On Tuesday, the patriotic-sounding “Community Bill of Rights” was again rejected, this time by a vote of 55 percent to 45 percent. To which we say, case closed.
The people have spoken, and the proponents of the ill-advised, legally indefensible, far-reaching amendment should accept the result for what it is: a repudiation of the effort to prevent oil and gas drilling within the city limits using the controversial hydraulic fracturing process. We use the word controversial because throughout the country, fracking, in common parlance, has been the topic of intense debate.
But the proposed charter amendment on Tuesday’s ballot in Youngstown didn’t just deal with the process of extracting oil and gas. The 1,360-word tome, which proponents concede contradicts state law, was so broadly written that, if adopted and enforced, could have shut down practically any enterprise.
As we noted in an editorial after the defeat of the amendment in the May primary, the language was boiler plate produced by a Pennsylvania environmental group that ascribed inalienable rights to people, animals, plants and even fungi.
The fact that there were so many interpretations of what the amendment would do speaks to the fuzziness — whether intentional or not — of the language.
One section would have, in effect, enabled a city resident to challenge anyone else’s use of virtually any device or chemical that produced noise, odor or a perceived threat.
Another section would have negated zoning by giving Youngstown residents “an inalienable right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, free from interference, intrusion, nuisances, or impediments to access or enjoyment.”
Let us be clear: The rejection — for the second time — of the Community Bill of Rights does not mean that city residents are a bunch of buffoons who don’t care about their rights or are environmental nincompoops.
Exercise in futility
Rather, they recognize an exercise in futility when they see it — even when it is couched in highfalutin language.
All that said, we believe the proponents of the charter amendment are well-intentioned and sincere in their goal of preserving the environment. They have done a great deal of research not only on the issue of fracking, but on the oil and gas industry in general. They can contribute greatly to the debate now occurring within the context of America’s energy independence.
We aren’t blind to the fact that the science is still inconclusive as to the dangers that may or may not exist with fracking. Both sides support their positions with reams of studies and anecdotal evidence, leaving the public befuddled, at best.
We do not believe the Community Bill of Rights was the proper response to this controversial, emotional-ridden issue.
Had it passed, it not only would have caused city government legal headaches, but would have been a drain on an already shaky budget.
Coming Sunday: What lies ahead for the new mayor of Youngstown? A plate full of problems and challenges.