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Voters in some Ohio cities make another run at fracking restrictions
Environmentalists and other opponents hope to change things from the polls challenging state control

Tim Rudell
Drilling rig in rural Carroll County
Courtesy of TIM RUDELL
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In The Region:

Voters in three northern Ohio cities will see “home rule” issues on Tuesday' ballots.  Home rule -- the right of local government to govern local matters -- has become a legal rallying point for “anti-fracking” activists trying to keep the controversial gas and oil drilling technology out of their communities.  WKSU' Tim Rudell reports,

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Hydraulic fracturing ban
Youngstown, Oberlin and Bowling Green have charter amendments on the ballot that, if passed, will create: ”within-city-limits” bans on fracking.

Who is in charge
But, if passed, they’ll also set up a head-on collision with the state over who’s the boss in oil and gas.  Current law says all power to oversee wells and such rests with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

Stephen Brooks of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron says THAT is what has home rule advocates going to the voters. “We can frame it as environmental regulation, and that they want to be able to control the environmental quality of their communities.”

In May, after the defeat at the polls of a first attempt at n anti-fracking amendment in Youngstown, University of Akron constitutional law professor Paul Richert said the state took control of drilling quite a while ago; and well before modern fracking technology and the Utica Shale play. “The state felt, and this was back in the day 25  or 30 years ago, that it would be difficult for local government to know how to regulate. Some would over-regulate, some would under-regulate. So the General Assembly decided to take this over and put it in an agency that would be able to do this uniformly and do it across the state.”

Doing it all?
Stephen Books says the goal was effective safety and environmental oversight and economic development at the same time. He says the Utica Shale boom is now energizing continuation of that regulatory approach. “The practical argument for this is that it is difficult for business to, in each small community, meet their regulations. And therefor it assists business. And I think probably the Legislature would argue that isn’t an argument of no regulation. … We do have an organization that does regulate these, and therefore it is better, more efficient; and it also helps business in this economic development area that is very important to the state.”

But there is dissent. 
The City of Munroe Fall is an example.  It has its own regulations for drilling there.  They were challenged in court by a drilling company, and the legal back and forth over what is called “pre-emption” of regulations is now before the Ohio Supreme Court.

And then there are the three charter amendments up for a vote on the Tuesday.  Sean Kelly, Ohio counsel for the Community Environmental Defense Fund, has been traveling the state, advising those communities, and others, from Athens to Broadview Heights about that approach. He also advises them  that passing a local law will almost certainly not mean the state will accept the results.  “Charter amendment gives the city a much stronger home rule argument. That is a matter of self-government. The right to determine what goes on in your own back yard.  Now, I fully expect that if one of these charter amendments makes its way to the courts, we are going to have to fight a preemption battle. But that’s something we are prepared to do.”

No success yet
So far no local attempt to change the law governing drilling regulation has worked, and in several communities, including with that May 2013 election in Youngstown, voters defeated home rule decisively.  But political scientist  Brooks says winning at the polls is not always the point.  “One of the things that actions like this do is they provide a structured environment where the issue can be debated. It may win, or it may lose, but after this election, there are going to be a lot more people who know a lot more about this issue than if it was just demonstrations now and then and letters to the editor and that kind of thing.”

For this election:
another charter amendment was ruled off the ballot for the city of Athens at the beginning of October for technical reasons;  and a challenge to the new measure on the Youngstown ballot was withdrawn.  

Listener Comments:

Here's an idea to put on the ballot: You can't vote on fracking if you can't explain what fracking is.

Posted by: Anita Hardcock (Ohio) on November 1, 2013 4:11AM
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