Nothing has changed on the legal front from last year when proponents of the anti-fracking amendment to the Youngstown Home Rule Charter twice failed to win voter approval. And yet, the misnamed Community Bill of Rights is back on the ballot in Youngstown in the May primary.
We say misnamed because passage of the amendment will not give city government any of the rights detailed in the 1,300-word tome. It is unenforceable. The Ohio General Assembly has given the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sole authority to oversee the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from shale formations deep beneath the earth’s surface.
The Legislature’s authority to act on issues of statewide importance is provided for in the Ohio Constitution and has been upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The proposed Youngstown charter amendment is designed to place the city outside the reach of either the Ohio Constitution or the U.S. Constitution.
In order words, should city voters throw caution to the wind and approve the amendment May 6, it is a safe bet Youngstown will be in legal jeopardy if government attempts to enforce the provisions. It will be a costly proposition, one that the shrinking, fiscally challenged community can ill afford.
As we said in editorials last year opposing the anti-fracking charter amendment — it appeared on the May and November ballots — the proponents should be given the benefit of the doubt when they contend that they’re motivated by environmental safety concerns tied to fracking.
Indeed, we concede that the science is still inconclusive as to the dangers of drilling deep beneath the earth’s surface to extract oil and gas from shale formations.
The recent acknowledgment by the ODNR that a series of tremors in Poland Township likely were the result of fracking operations has fueled the debate about this controversial method of extracting oil and gas from shale.
As a result of its findings, the agency has changed its permit conditions to require drillers in certain areas to monitor seismic activity. Companies seeking horizontal drilling permits within 3 miles of known faults or in the vicinity of seismic events greater than a 2.0 magnitude must install “sensitive” seismic monitors. If movement of a magnitude of more than 1.0 is detected, drilling and related activities would have to stop while the quakes are investigated. Drilling would be suspended if fracturing is determined to be the cause.
While proponents of the Youngstown charter amendment insist that local governments should have the right to decide what’s best for their communities, Ohio’s statutes and the state constitution say otherwise on issues that are of statewide concern.
The bottom line is the same as it was in the May and November 2013 elections when voters rejected the amendment: It is unenforceable and, therefore, an exercise in futility.
As we said previously, “This is not a serious piece of legislation. It clearly contradicts state law. If it were enforceable under Ohio law, it would be unenforceable under the U.S. Constitution. It would infringe on established property rights of people using the fanciful notion that ecosystems have inalienable rights.”
City residents should continue to say “no” to this feel-good — but no-good — ballot measure.