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Courts and Crime


Fallout from the Ohio Supreme Court Munroe Falls ruling
differing opinions on what the ruling really means for communities around the state
by WKSU's STATEHOUSE BUREAU CHIEF KAREN KASLER


Reporter
Karen Kasler
 
fracking well
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The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision that local communities can’t use zoning ordinances to keep out oil and gas drillers has communities, activists and lobbyists speculating on what it might mean for the future. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports.

Listen: the fallout from the Ohio Supreme Court's ruling on the Munroe Falls case

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The high court's ruling
The court split 4-3, saying Munroe Falls in Summit County couldn’t block Beck Energy from drilling on a residential property with permission of the owner and a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. The majority ruled that state law bans local communities from passing ordinances specifically aimed at obstructing drilling activities.  Bans have passed in several communities, including Athens, Broadview Heights in suburban Cleveland, Mansfield, Oberlin and Yellow Springs.  Chief among the group of organizations approving of the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision is the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Executive vice president Shawn Bennett says the court was correct in deciding that the permitting experts at ODNR are the right ones to decide where drilling should be done – because local officials don’t have the expertise to oversee a complex and technical industry. And Bennett says these local laws prohibiting drilling were pointless anyway. 
“Honestly, those bans were obsolete when they were passed – you know, those were, at the most, ceremonial bans. So all this court ruling does is reaffirm what was already in state laws. Those bans, even though they were passed, really weren’t doing anything. All they are is a ceremonial effort.”

Some don't see the bans as pointless
But those who are worried about possible detrimental after-effects of drilling and hydraulic fracturing or fracking don’t see these bans as pointless, but as an essential tool of democracy. Dick McGinn is the coordinator of the Ohio Community Rights Network in Athens County, and worked to pass the ban there. McGinn says this is about the civil rights of residents of communities that don’t want drilling, and taking that position is going to make it hard for the state to continue to fight these local bans. 
“If we have to go to court on this, the industry and the state will have to argue that we have no rights. Now that was not a matter for discussion in the Munroe Falls case. It will be in our case.”

The crux of the Munroe Falls case
The Munroe Falls case involved a permitting process on the local level, which is overridden by the permitting process on the state level. And for that reason, some critics of the decision say they think it’s very narrow, and that the door is open to those who want to make different arguments on local fracking bans. Nathan Johnson is an attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council
“Local governments, particularly cities across the state, should feel somewhat emboldened by this decision and feel strongly about crafting some ordinance language that would allow zoning – though, of course, they’d have to be careful about it, but I think they do have the hint there that they would succeed in court if they go about it properly.”

The next step
Those who would go to court will likely face an uphill battle from business groups who support the ruling from the Ohio Supreme Court. Among the groups that filed paperwork in support of the state and the energy industry was the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce, which estimates the area has seen $4 billion in economic development from shale in the last five years. Voters there have rejected four previous fracking bans, and chamber spokesman Guy Coviella said he feels the decision will stop a fifth one. 
“We’ve fought four charter amendments to the Youngstown chamber based on the possibility that it can be locally controlled. So this ruling supports our position that it should not be on the ballot again – it’s very costly for us to be on the ballot for us.”

And Coviella says his members are residents, so they’re concerned about possible safety issues from fracking, including earthquakes that have been reported in the area. But he says ODNR has been monitoring these issues closely and has been strict in its regulation, and he adds that the chamber is fine with bans on specific types of operations or in specific locations. 


Related WKSU Stories

Ohio Supreme Court invalidates local fracking bans
Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Listener Comments:

Strangely enough tax revenue is dropping rapidly in both Warren and Youngstown. City officials predict a decline of 4.4% in revenues for Youngstown this year, and Warren is trying to plug a huge hole in their budget. Fracking is not the miracle solution for long-term economic problems.


Posted by: Fred P (Kent) on February 20, 2015 4:02AM
The comment by Nathan Johnson from OEC is confusing. Instead of cities being 'emboldened' to craft zoning laws that were just stricken down by this ruling, communities should be crafting 'bills of rights' based on federal, constitutional law. Go to CELDF.org for more information.


Posted by: Perry Phillips (Kent) on February 19, 2015 12:02PM
So the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Youngstown is now deciding what the voters should and should not place on the ballot? I think all voters across Ohio, but especially in Youngstown would like to know exactly how much it did "cost the chamber" to defeat the citizen's initiative each time. That is the point that Justice O'Neill so clearly made in his dissent....that the oil/gas industry and interests bought and paid for the illegitimate law that strips communities of their right to self govern.


Posted by: Tish O'Dell (Broadview Heights) on February 19, 2015 3:02AM
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