National Group Requested To Help Charter Initiative Group

Posted on:

< < Back to

A local environmental group has enlisted a national organization to fight the Ohio Secretary of State’s decision on a charter initiative.

The originators of an initiative that, if approved by voters, would have created a charter to ban hydraulic fracturing waste within Athens County have filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court, with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

“Ohio communities are being inundated by fracking infrastructure projects – such as frack wastewater injection wells and pipelines,” CELDF stated in a news release. “Injection wells have been tied to earthquakes in Ohio, with fracking activities having major impacts on water quality and global warming.”

Despite the impact, CELDF states, state government is “authorizing corporations to site those projects.”

CELDF was also the group that helped the Athens County Bill of Rights group “draft county charters establishing community rights to local self-government,” according to a previous news release by the group.

The fund is a non-profit public interest law firm that helps communities fight for sustainable environmental policies, even when state and local governments are not, said Tish O’Dell, Ohio Community Organizer for CELDF.

“(Legal assistance from the group) is always done with the community,” O’Dell said. “We have them on conference calls and ask them what they want.”

The fund also partnered with the Ohio Community Rights Network in assisting Athens County, along with Medina and Fulton counties, whose initiatives were rejected in the same decision by Secretary of State Jon Husted.

The charter initiative was originally rejected by the Athens County Board of Elections, then appealed to the Athens County Common Pleas Court by the creators of the initiative, the Athens County Bill of Rights. Judge George McCarthy ruled that the charter could be put on the November ballot, and the Athens County Commissioners certified the initiative for the ballot. The board decided not to appeal the court’s decision while they awaited the secretary of state’s decision.

Husted was tasked to rule on the initiative after Joanne Prisley filed documents in opposition to the charter government. In her opposition, Prisley argued that the banning of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” within the county is a matter of zoning regulations, not dependent upon a change in government.

Supporters of the charter argued that Husted should only rule on the validity of the initiative for ballot consideration and not on the content of the charter, but the secretary of state said he was “unconvinced” by their argument.

He invalidated the petitions’ efforts to ban fracking, ruling that “state law preempts any authority to regulate ‘fracking’ by political subdivisions of the state, including charter counties.”

When CELDF was approached by the Bill of Rights group, O’Dell said they were given an honest outlook on the process of filing a lawsuit against the Secretary of State.

“We don’t pull any punches, we’re very honest,” O’Dell said. “We tell them, ‘it’s the system that says you can’t protect your water,’ and that it’s going to be a lot of work. The people in Athens seem ready, though.”

O’Dell said the decision by Husted has “major implications” for the future of the state legal system.

“He’s saying (with the ruling), ‘we don’t need judges to decide our laws, I will make decisions about our laws,'” O’Dell said.

Athens County and other counties  join communities in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Oregon “where residents are asserting their right to make the decisions about those things directly impacting them,” according to CELDF.

“…It is becoming increasingly clear that the people of Ohio need to alter their government not only at the local level, but the state level as well.”