Since 2015, Ohio counties have been fighting to protect themselves from shale gas drilling and fracking projects. While such fights are not new, their strategy is. Residents are not begging and pleading with the Ohio EPA or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to decrease the amount of pollution or provide better setbacks for injection wells, compressor stations, or pipelines. Instead, they are exercising their right to local community self-government, and securing their right to clean air, water, and soil, banning fracking activities as a violation of rights.
In response, the corporate state of Ohio is attempting to crush them.
Fracking Comes to Ohio
In 2004, the Ohio legislature acted on behalf of the oil and gas industry. They stripped local governments from decision-making authority regarding extractive activities. The fracking boom was ahead, and industry did not want to deal with differing regulatory requirements across the state.
Their move paid off. Today, there is fracking and its infrastructure across the state: fracking wells dotting rural and suburban communities, pipelines cutting through farm fields and back yards, compressor stations inundating local residents with air and sound pollution, and wastewater injection wells threatening to cause earthquakes and contaminate water sources.
Some of the hardest hit counties recognized no one was going to rescue them. They determined to take action to protect themselves and the communities they loved. They resolved to make the decisions about what happens in the places where they live.
Community Rights in Action
In 2015, Athens, Meigs, Portage, and Medina Counties worked with CELDF to draft Home Rule Charters – or local constitutions – that recognized the right to a healthy environment, the right to local community self-government, and the rights of nature to exist and flourish. The measures banned fracking and its infrastructure as violations of those rights. Residents qualified the measures, gathering signatures to place the charters on the ballot for a vote by the people. Twice.
The Corporate State – in Action
Twice, Secretary of State Jon Husted kept the measures off the ballot. (Mr. Husted is an industry ally, and received campaign contributions from them.) Initially, he claimed “unfettered authority” to block the right of the people to vote on their own initiative, based on the content of the measures. The Ohio Supreme Court slapped his wrist, chastising him for such claims.
However, with no clear legal guidelines on the technical requirements for the measures, the Ohio Supreme Court also favored the oil and gas industry and kept the charters off the ballot – without providing clarity on what standards must be met in order to qualify the measures.
Then, in December 2016, the Ohio legislature put community rights measures in their cross-hairs. They adopted HB463, authorizing the Secretary of State and local Boards of Elections full authority to keep citizen initiatives off the ballot based on their opinion of the content.
This summer, Athens, Medina, and Portage Counties are fired up. The corporate state’s hammer hasn’t crushed them. Instead, it’s bringing more people into the burgeoning community rights movement. They understand what’s at stake: the rights of communities and ecosystems to health and safety, and the very future of Ohio and its communities.
One Step Ahead
Ohio residents advancing environmental and democratic rights through community rights strategies know what’s next: the corporate state will try to use HB463 to stop the people from protecting themselves. They’ll leverage the recent ambiguous Ohio Supreme Court decisions to find technical reasons to keep direct democracy at bay. They’ll do whatever it takes to force Ohio communities to be sacrifice zones for oil and gas industry profits.
The people are ready, and CELDF is with them. Community after community will advance rights-based initiatives locally, and they will defy any corporate state effort to crush them.
Sign up now to show your support
Dear People of Ohio:
I support Medina, Portage, and Athens Counties’ democratic rights to vote on their own initiatives! And I support the people’s environmental rights to clean air, water, and soil. The people of Ohio – and across the U.S. – have the right to vote on critical matters like protecting water and stopping fracking activities. Corporations or government should never be able to interfere with that right. Your inalienable right to direct democracy must be protected to the highest degree. No Secretary of State, legislature, or court should stand in the way of the political power of the people. To the people of Medina, Portage, and Athens Counties, you are inspiring in your refusal to be bullied and your commitment to stand up for what is right!