Ohio Taxpayers Beware: Costly Ballot Initiatives Coming Your Way, Courtesy of National Ban-Fracking Group

OhioBeware 

Recently, EID reported on how a national “ban fracking” group – the Community for Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) – is targeting Ohio with campaigns to instate local fracking bans in Medina and Athens Counties.

This group has already led efforts in eight communities in Ohio, which include county petition drives in Medina, Athens, Meigs, Portage, and Fulton Counties, and city petition actions in Columbus, Youngstown, and Akron. This string of ballot initiatives is being done under the CELDF umbrella of the Ohio Community Rights Network (OCRN).

Of course, what the CELDF is not telling these communities is that lawsuits regarding local fracking bans could cost municipalities millions of dollars and could even lead to bankruptcy.

Local fracking ban initiatives stuck down

These ballot attempts have been challenged several times. Most recently in Cuyahoga County, a judge ruled that a drilling ban clearly conflicts with Ohio’s oil and gas law. Under the law, the regulation of the oil and gas development exclusively belongs to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. In fact, the city of Broadview Heights ban, which was the catalyst behind Cuyahoga County’s decision, just decided they will not appeal the ruling. Broadview Height Law Director Vince Ruffa recently stated, “There was no basis for an appeal, honestly. They (Cuyahoga County) gave us the opinion that appealing would be pointless and frivolous” (emphasis added).

Judge Micheal K. Astrab said state code prohibits local governments from exercising authority that “discriminates against, unfairly impedes or obstructs oil and gas activities and operations.”

In addition, the pivotal Ohio Supreme Court decision, which provided a final ruling to the Munroe Falls vs. Beck Energy case earlier this year, concluded that the state has primacy over oil and gas regulation. More importantly, it established that what the “state has allowed, the local government cannot prohibit.” Broadview Heights, a suburb outside of Cleveland recently announced they will not appeal.

However all of these actions by various courts have not dismayed the CELDF, who currently identifies Ohio as one of 6 states under their radar. Ohio joins New Mexico, Washington State, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Colorado as targets for their campaigns.

Buyers Beware

Ohio should take a hard look at CELDF’s latest victim, New Mexico, where special interest groups cost Mora County big bucks after a federal judge overturned a 2013 ordinance that was passed, which was authored with considerable input from an “environmental group based in Pennsylvania”. Also noteworthy is Mora County has the second highest unemployment rate and is one of the poorest counties in the state. Folks there are now having buyer’s remorse after learning that they county may be faced with municipal bankruptcy:

“We have heard estimates ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Michael Aragon, an attorney for the county. County resident Frank Splendoria “It was totally foolish to begin with, to even try this. How do you pass an ordinance that’s going to override the state and the federal constitution? I don’t know if they were playing us in Mora County as suckers or they were sincere in their beliefs. I would probably tend to the former rather than the latter, given that Mora County was the first county to try this and failed miserably at it. II don’t know where we would find the money. If you look at the county’s budget, they barely have enough money to provide the bare essential services … (The ban) hasn’t made any sense to anyone with any sense to begin with.” (emphasis added)

This cautionary tale was backed by a recent article in Energywire, warning these ballot measures can be costly to local government. But the CELDF doesn’t seem too concerned on that point. As the group stated:

“Interested towns and counties is that they must be prepared to accept municipal bankruptcy as a worst-case scenario.” (emphasis added)

Further, the misinformation continues with the assumption that legal costs are somehow pro-bono. In Mora County, a supporter of the fracking ban stated,

“Opponents spew propaganda, saying that taxes are going to go up, the county’s going to go bankrupt, that you have this outside group doing all this,” Olivas said. “That’s not true. Those were pro bono services … If we here in Mora County get charged with legal fees it’s going to be on the hands of those commissioners who fired these attorneys who have all this background and knowledge.”

CELDF allegedly offering its services “pro-bono” to supporters is not unique to New Mexico. The same tricks were pulled already in Ohio with the Community Bill of Rights in Youngstown, which was defeated four times.

Susie Beiersforfer, of Frack Free Mahoning Valley reported to Energywire that the CELDF agreed on the payment of $1 to represent them if they became embroiled in a suit; however, she also noted that “a possible lawsuit never entered the picture” (emphasis added). This is interesting, since the CELDF flew the coop when Mora County was on the hook to pick up their tab. Luckily the voters of Youngstown have not put their city government in the same position.

While EID has debunked the merits of these ballot measures time and time again, it’s incredible that these campaigns continue to spread. Texas recently voted to prohibit cities and towns from banning oil and gas related activities, as the state has the sole authority to regulate all components of the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile Ohio voters should take a hard look at New Mexico as a cautionary tale as to what could happen to their towns and counties should these 8 ballot measures move forward.

Here’s a tip for the Buckeye State: buyers beware!

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  1. […] in June 2015, in response to an op-ed written by an Energy in Depth representative, available here. It offers a poignant look a serious threat facing many local governments in the United States and […]

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