Youngstown, Ohio owes a lot to natural gas. With the development of the Mercatus and Utica shale formations, northeast Ohio is being economically revitalized. In the short term, construction of the Rover Pipeline has added thousands of construction jobs, many paying union wages offering good benefits, as well as boosting area small businesses, including hotels and restaurants. On the whole, fracking seems to be great for the area. So why has the city of Youngstown spent nearly $200,000 on ballot proposals to pass a community Bill of Rights that would ban fracking in the area?
The answer is a combination of environmental activism and state regulation that has forced the city to repeatedly pay for elections that have not only failed but would be illegal under state law even if they were to get voter support. Under state law, petitions that reach a certain threshold of signatures must be placed on the ballot. A Pennsylvania-based group called Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has placed a piece of legislation it calls the Community Bill of Rights on the ballot in Youngstown six times since 2013 and is pushing for another special election this year.
Although CELDF phrases its activism in terms of community rights, it is unabashedly environmentalist. Its website explains that the group began as a public interest law firm, but switched tactics after realizing that corporations and governments were allied to stymie environmental protection measures. The group changed its focus and instead began to work “to establish the rights of nature in law – recognizing the rights of ecosystems and natural communities to exist and thrive, and empowering people and their governments to defend and enforce these rights.”
In Youngstown, the proposed “bill of rights” guarantees residents the right to clean water, air, and soil, as well as a right to protection against the rights of corporations. The group proposing the bill wants to use it to…