To its credit, Niles City Council last week used the power of repeal in the noble spirit it has been used throughout American history to correct errors in judgment and to respond to societal advances.
Just as legislators at all levels of government over the years have repealed unfair Jim Crow laws, unenforceable alcohol prohibition laws and unworkable Sunday closing “blue laws,’’ city legislators in Niles unanimously repealed its recently adopted Community Bill of Rights. That misnamed and misguided legislation quickly would have emerged as unfair, unenforceable and unworkable as well.
The Community Bill of Rights would have banned oil and gas drilling and related activities in every nook and cranny of Niles, thereby denying rights to free and relatively unfettered commerce to one of the Mahoning Valley’s fastest growing economic enterprises.
ABOUT THE NILES LAW
The Community Bill of Rights — which a handful of other Ohio communities have approved and which will again appear on the Nov. 5 ballot in Youngstown after its defeat at the polls in May — has been pushed aggressively by anti-fracking activists in the state in recent years.
The mayor and city council members in Niles bit the flimsy bait last month, when they approved the ban on hydraulic fracturing in Trumbull County’s second-largest city. Motivated by fear, misconceptions and misinformation from fracking opponents, they acted hastily to put the brakes on all possible drilling on city land.
Only after that vote did they come to grips with the facts that no drilling had been planned in residential neighborhoods in the city, no existing revenue-producing agreements for the city to provide water to drillers would remain legal, and no local governments in the state have the authority to supersede state law in the regulation of drilling in local communities.
Hindsight proved 20/20, and the full city council quickly and firmly corrected their knee-jerk reaction to the emotionally packed bill of goods sold to them from anti-fracking activists.
LESSONS FOR YOUNGSTOWN
The time-wasting lessons learned by Niles city leaders, however, can prove instructive to any voters in Youngstown who remain on the fence over supporting or opposing the Community Bill of Rights in Mahoning County’s largest city when they go to the ballot box Nov. 5.
Should city voters dramatically change their thinking and approve the initiative later this fall, the process of undoing the damage would likely be much longer and much more painful than in Niles. If it’s left intact, the same dangers remain that we have vociferously argued about time and time again in this space.
In addition to the legality of local enforcement that counters state law, the Bill of Rights would yield many wrongs for the city. It would impolitely kick out drillers, curtail shale-play growth and place a stain on the city’s image as a viable place to grow business of any kind.
All of this controversy continues to play out in a backdrop of increasing evidence that hydraulic fracturing, when conducted properly and responsibly, remains safe. Just last week, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences released findings of a study that concluded that drilling and fracking for natural gas does not spew immense amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the air, as many fractivists feared.
In addition, in states like Ohio, legislators have kept a watchful eye on the drilling industry and have enacted a series of firm regulations. We encourage such state oversight to continue.
But as Niles City Council and the Athens County Board of Elections, which recently refused to place the bill of rights on the ballot, rightly have recognized, oil and gas drilling provides an economic jolt for communities and a slow but steady move toward energy independence for the U.S. Youngstown voters should use the same sound reasoning in defeating the Community Bill of Rights at the polls Nov. 5.