Anti-fracking proposal goes to Youngstown voters for 5th time
By David Skolnick
It took a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, but the anti-fracking Community Bill of Rights charter amendment is in front of Youngstown voters for a fifth time on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The bill calls for fracking to be banned in the city, which opponents and state officials say isn’t enforceable because those decisions are made by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, a citizens group that backs the proposal, said, “It’s a very important issue to the people of Youngstown. It’s about local control.”
She also objects to those who say putting this on the ballot is a waste of time.
“If we can’t petition our government, democracy will go down the toilet,” Beiersdorfer said. “Everything starts at the local level. If it passes, we don’t know what happens from there. If it doesn’t pass, I don’t know if we will seek a sixth time.”
Mayor John A. McNally, a member of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, which opposes the fracking-ban proposal, said, “The residents of the city are tired of hearing about this issue.”
Fracking isn’t happening in the city, but there are other businesses – such as other oil and gas drilling and those that transport fracking water – that would be hurt if this amendment is approved, McNally said.
Butch Taylor, business manager for the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 396 union and a coalition member, said the ODNR has reacted quickly when there have been problems in the city, and there’s no reason for people to back a proposal rejected four other times.
“If it passes, a company or business could file in court and it would be ruled unconstitutional, but it has the potential to drive away business from the city,” he said.
The Ohio Supreme Court wrote in a Feb. 17 decision regarding a similar matter in Munroe Falls that the state constitution’s home-rule amendment doesn’t grant local governments the power to regulate oil and gas in their limits.
Because of that decision, the Mahoning County Board of Elections rejected the anti-fracking proposal Aug. 26. But the city of Youngstown filed a complaint in state Supreme Court two days later stating the board of elections overstepped its authority. The court agreed with the city in a Sept. 17 ruling.
Whether it can be enforced if the proposal is approved by voters will be decided by the courts, supporters and opponents say.
The proposal would ban not only fracking, but “related activities” such as “the depositing, disposal, storage and transportation of water or chemicals to be used in the extraction of oil and gas, the disposal or processing of waste products from the extraction of oil and gas,” according to the charter amendment.