Over the past several years, activists in Youngstown have pushed repeatedly to get anti-fracking “Community Bill of Rights” measures on the ballot. While they’ve managed to do so four times, the measure has been soundly rejected on each occasion. Yet, this small cadre of activists keeps promising to force residents into voting on it again. But in doing so, these activists may be imposing major costs on those they claim to be protecting: local taxpayers.
For example, a recent article in Energywire entitled “For towns fighting drilling, the legal bills are as high as the stakes” discusses a group called the Community Legal Environmental Defense Fund (CELDF), which crafted an ordinance in Mora County, New Mexico that banned fracking. The ordinance was struck down by a federal judge in January, causing the small town to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs. As a result, Mora County may be facing municipal bankruptcy.
The CELDF has been behind pushing numerous fracking bans across the nation, including in Athens Ohio, where an anti-fracking charter amendment has already been cited as indefensible. As Energywire also reported,
“CELDF’s Executive Director Tom Linzey previously told EnergyWire that the first advice he dishes out to interested towns and counties is that they must be prepared to accept municipal bankruptcy as a worst-case scenario” (emphasis added)
While the CELDF claims to warn interested towns and cities of the costs involved with such campaigns, it does not appear that they gave a heads up to the folks in Ohio when they attempted their misinformation campaign in Mahoning County. For instance, as Energywire also reported, “Susie Beiersdorfer, a community organizer leading Youngstown, Ohio citizens for a fracking ban (also advised by CELDF), said a possible lawsuit never entered the picture.” (emphasis added)
The reality is that local municipalities attempting to ban fracking through charter amendments would likely violate Section 7, Article XVIII of the Ohio Constitution.
This was made abundantly clear when the Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled that the City of Monroe Falls does not have the authority to supersede drilling activities that are permitted by the state. As the Ohio Supreme Court determined: “Regulation of oil and gas activities and operations—Municipality may not “discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct” such activities—R.C. 1509.02 is general law.” The details of the costs to the municipality have not yet emerged, but if they are anything like what Mora County had to pay, it won’t be an easy pill to swallow.
Luckily, the people of Eastern Ohio won’t have to foot the bill for these measures, as they voted down the “Community Bill of Rights” in Youngstown four times.
Taxpayers in other regions of the country have not been so lucky. For example, take a look at San Benito County, California where taxpayers may be on the hook for an estimated $1.2 billion in costs associated with a legal challenge to their fracking ban. Several regions in Colorado have already spent $312,272 on legal expenses. For example Longmont, Colorado spent over $136,000 to defend their 2012 fracking ban. As the former mayor of Longmont, Colorado Bryan Baum said, “It’s cost the city a lot. It’s not just the money that it costs to defend these — it’s the opportunities and the industries.” In short, these stories should serve as cautionary tales, demonstrating the high risk to taxpayers.
Ohio just received a $22.5 billion hand-up thanks to shale development and, as a result, unemployment has dropped and tax revenues have poured into county and state coffers. This is especially relevant, as the majority of the counties in Ohio where shale development has been occurring, have historically been the poorest in the state. Now millions of revenues have flooded into county coffers, saving local governments from what could have been massive budget deficits. That sure sounds a lot better than the bankrupting policies of anti-fracking activists.