Anti-fracking activists in Ohio asked the state Supreme Court this week to put charter proposals aimed at blocking energy development back on the Nov. 3 ballots in three counties.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted blocked the initiatives in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties on Nov. 13, 2014, saying local governments cannot get around state law that allows fracking. He acted under a section of Ohio law that allows the secretary of state to respond to election complaints (EnergyWire, Aug. 17).

Organizers of the petitions in the three counties, who have been helped by the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, asked the Supreme Court to order Husted to put the three measures back on the ballot.

Husted “is forbidden by pertinent constitutional principles from arrogating to himself the power to peremptorily ‘invalidate’ the three petitions because of his particular quibbles over their content and legality,” attorneys James Kinsman and Terry Lodge wrote on behalf of the petition organizers. “It is long-established that the substance of the charter proposals, as duly-initiated referenda, is off-limits to pre-election protest.”

The suit was brought by 10 people who collected signatures in support of the ballot proposals, which would create a new governing charter for each of the counties, including a “community bill of rights” and the right to stop energy development.

The petition in Athens County had already survived a challenge, according to the suit. A common pleas court judge ruled that the county election board couldn’t turn down the petition if it had the required number of signatures.

The plaintiff’s attorneys say the court will have to take the case.

Joshua Eck, a spokesman for Husted, said the secretary’s decision was legal.

“As chief elections officer, Secretary Husted plans to defend the integrity of the laws of Ohio against those who would rather drag the state through expensive litigation, only to find out months from now what we already know: their plans for county government and energy exploration are illegal,” Eck wrote.

Ohio’s oil and gas production has been climbing for the last few years because of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica Shale formation. Environmental groups and some local officials have complained about spills, water contamination and other side effects from shale development.

The Athens County petition would block fracking and disposal of oil and gas waste. The petitions in the other two counties would block construction of the proposed Nexus pipeline, which would carry gas from Ohio to a distribution hub in Michigan.

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