Despite Repeated Failure, Anti-Fracking Activists Continue Efforts to Stop Youngstown Economic Development

Despite six consecutive failed attempts to pass a so-called “Community Bill of Rights” in Youngstown, Pennsylvania-based environmental activist group Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and fellow out-of-state fringe environmental groups are once again targeting the city. Their goal? To not only end oil and gas development — which has pumped $50 billion into Ohio’s economy since 2011 — but all economic development, period.

Specifically, the groups are pushing a pair of petitions that would prohibit investment in economic development, encourage civil disobedience and prohibit police intervention, as well as curtail free speech and election activities.

Ironically, this news comes on the same day as local unions in Youngstown are reporting that their halls are empty because they have so much work going on in the region — activity these fringe activist groups want to shut down entirely. The latest strategy by CELDF and its cronies highlights how grossly out of touch these groups have become and brings to light their true objective: to ban all economic development by stripping individual rights in favor of providing legal rights to “nature and ecosystems” through a bizarre and contradictory campaign platform of “self-government.”

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

One of CELDF’s new petitions would ban corporate dollars in local elections. It is based off an initiative announced back in April in a press release entitled “free and fair elections” that, according to CELDF’s website, would prohibit campaign contributions from outside individuals and corporations, specifically,

“Corporations, labor unions, political action committees, political parties, and all other campaign funding entities shall be prohibited from donating to local candidate and issue campaigns or spending money to influence the outcome of any ballot measure or candidate, as those contributions unfairly influence electoral outcomes and undermine the peoples’ right to fair elections.”

The CELDF press release also states,

“Democracy, which includes our elections, is supposed to be of and by ‘we the people’ not ‘we the corporations.’”

This is all laughably ironic, considering CELDF refuses to acknowledge that the people have rejected their agenda six consecutive times in Youngstown. Similarly, while CELDF alleges (without any evidence) that outside money has been used to defeat their ballot measures while simultaneously touting “fair elections,” it bears repeating that a local organizer and employee of the multi-million dollar anti-fracking grassroots organization behind CELDF’s six-times-failed Youngstown Community Bill of Rights ballot initiatives — the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC) — was sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty to 13 felony counts for false voter registration and election fraud that included registering deceased people to vote in January. That same group also falsely claimed election fraud after an onslaught of failed Community Bill of Rights efforts in Youngstown just two years ago. Of course, a hand recount found that the Community Bill of Rights failed fair and square.

Moreover, CELDF should practice what it preaches when it comes to calling for “free and fair elections” not being influenced by deep-pocketed interest groups — because that is essentially what this $1.4 million organization is! That fact is seemingly lost on one of the few local activists supporting the measure, who recently said,

“We have to change the laws and we have to take back our rights. The first thing we’ve got to do is get the big money out.”

CELDF is the very definition of “big money.” Its coffers swelled from $1.6 million in 2014 to $2.5 million in 2015, and OCC has taken money directly from anti-fracking national groups such as the George Gund Foundation and the Ford Foundation. CELDF has spent almost a million dollars on lobbying and grassroots efforts, as a result of the more than $3.4 million the group has raised over the past few years. According to its latest tax filing, the organization has seen its fundraising increase by more than 73 percent since 2009.

That financial clout would be even more substantial if not for CELDF’s failed Ohio fundraising efforts. And let’s not forget that registering deceased people to vote takes money, too.

Latest Youngstown “Bill of Rights” would “Deal a Blow to the City’s Key Economic Development”

In yet another ironic twist, on the same day that the Youngstown Business Journal reported that, “Work Empties Building Trades’ Union Halls,” the same publication also reported that CELDF’s latest so-called “Community Bill of Rights” has emerged under the title of the “2017 Youngstown Drinking Water Protection Bill of Rights.” The paper notes the latest version of the “Bill of Rights” would “deal a blow to one of the city’s key economic development tools” and, in essence, stop the boom in union labor activity the paper reported on the very same day.

CELDF is apparently so out-of-touch with Ohioans on this latest ballot measure that they can’t even spell Youngstown correctly.

While the people who actually live and work in the Mahoning Valley are likely collectively rolling their eyes at this seventh attempt at a charter amendment — regardless of its current title — the fact is CELDF has already taken the community for tens of thousands of dollars by forcing these ballot measures, and the latest attempt to hijack economic development in the city is the most rogue language they have proposed yet.

This new proposal would prohibit the City of Youngstown from using water and wastewater money for economic development, a fund that has allowed the city to award $8 million in grants for economic development projects. Projects the grants have funded so far include restaurants, a new hotel, residential development and even entertainment venues. The measure would not only impact economic development in the city but throughout the entire region as well. Youngstown Mayor John McNally is justifiably concerned about the petition, stating,

“A provision like this would significantly curtail our ability to (award economic development grants from water and wastewater money) and significantly curtail some of the projects that we try to support. It’s helped with a whole slew of projects in the city of Youngstown, not just downtown.”

The funding has been used to support a host of economic development initiatives that have attracted companies to the area and have contributed greatly to the recent economic revitalization that has led to the union halls “being empty” due to the high demand for construction projects. As Rocky DiGennaro, president of the Western Reserve Construction and Building Trades Council stated,

“Almost every hall is empty. Building work is really good and most of the crafts are at maximum capacity.”

Members of the local community are also calling the new CELDF tactics “more extreme” than its past six ballot measures. The new language would essentially encourage civil disobedience and make it difficult for police to intervene. In short, those same union construction jobs could be subject to acts of civil disobedience and the new legislation states that police “may not intervene,” which could inhibit union laborers from building roads, bridges, buildings, pipelines and a number of other projects perceived to be in violation of the charter amendment.

Fortunately, voters, local elected leaders and numerous community groups have consistently denounced CELDF and these ballot measures as “ridiculous,” unconstitutional, preempted by state law and “irresponsible.” While CELDF continues to attack Youngstown, the community will continue to fight back. As Youngstown Mayor John McNally (D) has said,

“I do think it’s a larger issue than just the City of Youngstown. The folks that are involved, the folks that drafted it are all out of state folks that are pushing an agenda…that is detrimental to the City of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.” (emphasis added)

This brand of environmental extremism certainly does not represent Youngstown or the Buckeye State, and these marginalized fringe groups continue to prove how completely out of touch they are with reality. These ballot measures are destructive from start to finish, even if the new petitions are put on the ballot, it is likely that history will repeat itself and CELDF’s efforts will fail for a seventh time.

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