Ohio Voters Pass Two Community Bills of Rights Banning Fracking-Related Activity
Yesterday, voters in Broadview Heights, Ohio came out in record numbers to say yes to the adoption of a Community Bill of Rights banning corporations from conducting new gas and oil drilling and related activities in their city. A similar Charter Amendment was also adopted by voters in Mansfield, Ohio by a wide margin of 62 percent yes votes to 37 percent no votes. It adds a Community Bill of Rights to the City Charter and prohibits injection wells without written city approval.
The Broadview Heights charter amendment was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) at the invitation of the community group Mothers Against Drilling In Our Neighborhoods (MADION), a group of citizens concerned about the potential effects of gas and oil drilling on their families and the environment.
Broadview Heights is the first municipality in the state of Ohio to not only include a local Bill of Rights in the City Charter, but to protect those rights by prohibiting all new gas and oil drilling, fracking and injection wells. The Village of Yellow Springs became the first community in Ohio to adopt a local law asserting the fundamental rights of residents to clean air and water, and to protect the rights of nature. Broadview Heights’ new law includes these same provisions and was placed on the ballot through an initiative petitioning process led by MADION.
MADION co-founders Michelle Aini and Tish O’Dell commented, “It is abundantly clear that the majority of residents in Broadview Heights feel that pure water, clean air, peaceful enjoyment of home and self-government is our American right for all of our families. Now it is the responsibility of our elected officials to take action, if needed, to protect the public health and well being of each citizen of Broadview Heights if our charter is violated by a drilling company.”
The amendment survived withering attacks by Mayor Sam Alai and City Law Director Vince Ruffa. At the time MADION filed the petitions, members of the group were told that the city was considering asking the court for an injunction against placement of the question on the ballot. But after discussions with attorney Sean Kelly, representing MADION, a decision was made that City Council had a ministerial obligation to adopt an ordinance required by law to place it before the voters. Mayor Alai later wrote, “As an elected official and a strong advocate of voters' rights, council and I believe that placing the drilling ban on the ballot is the right thing to do because it is citizen-sponsored legislation and it deserves our collective consideration.”
But neutrality was not to be the position of the mayor and law director. According to Ruffa, “The idea is to follow the law and the law says we can’t regulate [drilling]. And if we can’t regulate it, my advice to the mayor and council would be that we can’t enforce [the ban].”
Mayor Alai went so far as to publish editorial comments and city-underwritten position statements in opposition to the measure. In those statements the mayor argued that regulation of oil and gas extraction is the exclusive responsibility of the state and that municipalities are preempted from doing so.
“Let me be clear, if this legislation passes after a vote of the people, the community is directing this administration to refuse all future drilling in our city, despite the fact that the ban violates Ohio law and will most certainly subject us to lawsuits and expensive legal bills, since the laws that permit them to drill are solidly in their favor,” wrote the mayor.
But other city officials took a different stance. “Issue 29 and the Broadview Heights Bill of Rights, affirms that we as residents have the right to self-governance,” commented Councilwoman At-Large Jennifer Mahnic. “With more and more studies showing fracking negatively impacting a community in so many ways—including health risks, decreased home values, plus environmental damage to water and air—I believe residents have a right to say ‘no’ to drilling in their backyards.”
In fact, the Community Bill of Rights amendment does not “regulate” oil or gas extraction, as its detractors claim. Rather, it asserts fundamental rights that are beyond regulation by the state, and then protects those rights by prohibiting corporate behavior judged to pose threats to those rights. Fracking and related activities are permitted by the state and allow corporations to site drilling and injection wells against the consent of the community. The amendment recognizes the rights of community members as superior to the regulatory laws of Ohio and finds the issuance of such permits, in violation of those rights, to be an illegitimate exercise of state power.
Pat Volk, a resident of Broadview Heights and supporter of MADION, said, "I've been working on this for over three years and it is nice to get some vindication." With passage of the law, Broadview Heights joins a dozen other communities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Ohio and New Mexico that have taken a stand for fundamental rights by banning fracking or related activities.
Corporations that violate the prohibitions or seek to drill or site injection wells in the city will not be afforded “personhood” rights under the U.S. or Ohio Constitution, nor will they be afforded protections under the Commerce Clause or Contracts Clause under the federal or state constitution.
In addition, the ordinance recognizes the legally enforceable Rights of Nature to exist and flourish. Broadview Heights residents now possess legal standing to enforce those rights on behalf of natural communities and ecosystems.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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