CELDF Press Release: Mansfield Voters Adopt Community Rights Charter Amendment That Bans Toxic Injection Wells
November 7th, 2012
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Pennsylvania Community Rights Network
P.O. Box 360 Mercersburg, PA 17236
November 7, 2012
CONTACT: Eric Belcastro, (412) 216-9671
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
By a vote of 62.87% in favor, the people of the City of Mansfield, seat of Richland County in north-central Ohio and home to nearly 48,000 people, adopted an amendment to their home rule charter that recognizes a community Bill of Rights, and allows for the prohibition of the injection of fracking wastewater on grounds that such prohibition is necessary to secure and protect those rights. The resolve of the citizens of Mansfield to vindicate these rights was demonstrated by a majority vote even after industry money poured in to wage an 11th hour astroturf campaign against the amendment.
The amendment recognizes rights to sustainable water, clean air, peaceful enjoyment of home, a sustainable energy future, the recognition that the people of Mansfield are sovereign and at all times enjoy and retain “an inalienable and indefeasible right to self-governance in the community where they reside.” The charter acts as a local constitution for the people of Mansfield, so the passage of the amendment constitutionalizes these rights locally. Amending the charter by popular vote was a clear display of the will of the people to govern themselves in the face of corporate intimidation and state policies that place them and future generations in harms way.
This struggle began after Preferred Fluids Management LLC, based in Austin, Texas, was granted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources permits for the construction and operation of two 5,000 foot deep injection wells in Mansfield's industrial park. The injection wells were to be filled with the byproduct of fracking, in which millions of gallons of chemical-laced water are used to crack open rock formations in dense shale formations. The toxic fluids were to be transported by rail from Pennsylvania.
City Council member Scott Hazen spoke during a special council meeting: “The citizens of Mansfield were not, in any way, shape or form, asked whether or not this was something that was appropriate and we were not in any way consulted as to whether or not this could, potentially, cause long term damage to our city. So I take great offense to the fact that the State made the blanket appropriation of our land without giving us any sort of recourse.”
After learning about the injection wells and being told that there is little that could be done, Cindy Soliday, working with Frack Free Ohio and Occupy Mansfield, reached out to CELDF to learn about a rights-based approach. After an initial conference call and follow-up conversations with community members, Council, and the Law Director's office, John Spon, the Law Director, proposed a charter amendment based on language drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
Banking on House Bill 278, passed in 2004, which gave the ODNR “sole regulatory authority for permitting of the oil and gas industry,” the company brought forward a federal lawsuit, seeking a ruling saying the city has no authority to regulate the two injection wells. This was an issue unrelated to the charter amendment, which did not seek to regulate the proposed corporate assault, but to vindicate and enforce rights. The federal lawsuit was dropped by the company due to the Law Director's successful defense based on the permit no longer being active. After the case was withdrawn, the elected law director, John Spon, said “It would be my hope that every single voter in the city considers voting 'yes' to protect their own rights," Spon said. "The need to adopt the charter amendment is even greater because it's very possible that this industry is just regrouping to commence another assault."
The home rule charter amendment had the unanimous support of the Council, and the Law Director, and the residents continued to organize in support of the amendment. Except for a few articles published by Energy In Depth, no opposition was seen in Mansfield until the last week before the election. A flurry of glossy flyers was sent to every resident, and ads appeared in print and broadcast, representing the viewpoints of the American Petroleum Institute / Energy Citizens, The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and a group called Mansfielders for Jobs which had not filed any campaign spending forms locally with the Richland County Board of Elections or with the Secretary of State, nor indicated any required contact information on its flyers. When Barbara Walters, head of Mansfielders for Jobs, was asked in an interview when the group was created she responded that she didn't know exactly, and when asked where the funding came from she did not comment. In response to this sudden PR campaign Cindy Soliday said, “Powerful organizations with no vested interest in my community other than to turn it into a toxic waste dump on the promise of three jobs, are spending millions in advertising to try and take away democracy and the voice of the people.”
The industry campaign was unsuccessful. The people of Mansfield vindicated rights by exercising them, especially the right to local self-governance. They joined with Broadview Heights in becoming the first two communities in Ohio to do so by popular vote. Both communities join the village of Yellow Springs, which, a month prior, had passed an ordinance recognizing the rights of residents to clean air and water and banning corporations from conducting shale gas drilling in the village. These represent the first volleys in a struggle in Ohio over who calls the shots: the people that live there and that have to live with the consequences, or the corporations that have been licensed by the state to violate their rights.
Of the victory, Cindy Soliday said, "The voice of the people is always paramount. I am very proud of my community and that democracy lives and breathes in Mansfield Ohio. Our hope is that the precedent set with the passage of our Bill of Rights, will empower other communities to enact similar legislation to assert the right to self govern."
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