Appalachian Basin

Activists Disregard Costs to Taxpayers in Sixth Attempt for Youngstown Ballot Initiative

This week, members of Frack Free Mahoning (FFM) presented a petition asking for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s (CELDF) Community Bill of Rights (CBR) to be placed on Youngstown’s November ballot…again. And when we say again, this isn’t merely the second time the ban would appear on the ballot in Youngstown. It’s not even the third time. This push for the rights of nature including, but not limited to, a ban on injection and any oil and gas development within the city’s limits, has already been defeated five times since 2013!

In response to the group’s fifth attempt in 2015, Mahoning County Democrat Party Chairman, David Betras stated,

“The members of the executive committee were unanimous in opposition to amending the charter banning fracking. The group knows full well this is a total waste of the taxpayers’ precious funds. ” (emphasis added)

EID evaluated just how costly each initiative has been to taxpayers earlier this year following talk of this sixth round of voting that activists have threatened to do up to “43 times” if necessary. The findings showed that each time the CBR appears on the ballot, it costs the city—yes, taxpayers, not the activists– more than $16,000, according to the Board of Elections and the City of Youngstown Clerk. It was actually the fifth most expensive ballot measure out of 52 total in Mahoning County last year. The grand total for all five initiatives has been at least $80,000!

And yet the measure continues to appear on the ballot despite a clear voice from the taxpayers who get stuck footing the bill. In fact, even the Youngstown paper, the Vindicator has said,

“Thus, we have no qualms about telling the bunch of self-righteous, self- important individuals who are pushing an anti-fracking charter amendment in the city of Youngstown to please go away…In the past two years, we have used every argument we could think of to show why the bill of rights is absolutely wrong for the city.” (emphasis added)

If comments made during this week’s press conference are any indicator, though, no amount of rational arguments will dissuade this fringe group of activists from beating this dead horse over and over again. From WYTV:

“You know, every time is different. And it’s really not about passing the Community Bill of Rights. It’s about raising awareness that citizens have the right to petition their government when their government is not taking care of them,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a Community Bill of Rights committee member.

That’s the same FFM member who attacked EID’s Jackie Stewart in May with warnings about visiting “fracking well sites” while pregnant because of debunked studies, and who has essentially admitted in the past that the ban is not about fracking,

“This is a movement about saying we, the people, in the cities of Youngstown can decide what industries come in here.

In other words, this CBR is about banning any industry a fringe group deems undesirable, and that goes well beyond the oil and gas industry, as stated by CELDF founder, Thomas Linzey,

“If you are going to put all that work into a ballot initiative, why not do a ballot initiative that bans all finance companies in New York City from funding new projects that exacerbate climate change? Why not do something real…why not do something real…cause people are saying to themselves, ‘it would be illegal, it would be unlawful, it would be unconstitutional, because you are taking their property’ well..(expletive), it’s time.”

What’s more is groups like FFM completely disregard facts and existing studies in their attempts to scare the public into voting for the CBR, as is also evident in the press coverage of this week’s petition. From WYTV:

“In every city and every part of this state, if you allow fracking, you’re killing water, and if you’re killing water, it’s killing people. And we want everybody to be alive, healthy and safe,” said Rev. Young Tensley.

That’s a pretty shocking statement given the recent University of Cincinnati groundwater study that members of the group are blatantly ignoring because they claim it was “industry funded,” as the following video shows:

Ban Fracking Activist to EID: “An industry paid study is not valid. So quit citing it”

EID: “The University of Cincinnati study was an industry study?”

Ban Fracking Activist: “I do not care.  It’s an industry paid for study.”

EID: “Are you saying the University of Cincinnati Study was industry paid? “

Ban Fracking Activist: “Yes I am, I’m saying yes, absolutely”

The reality? The University of Cincinnati study, which showed “no evidence for natural gas contamination,” actually received 18 percent of the funding for the water sampling from the Deer Creek Foundation, which also gave $25,000 to the Media Alliance in Oakland, Calif. for a documentary on the “rise of ‘extreme’ oil and gas extraction – fracking, tar sands development, and oil drilling in the Arctic” as well as $20,000 to the Northern Plains Resource Council, a Montana activist group that states on its website, “Fracking damages water, land and wildlife.” The Deer Creek Foundation also donated at least $20,000 to WildEarth Guardians, which is a key player in the “Keep it in the Ground” anti-fossil fuel movement that has been especially active in Ohio lately.

Meanwhile, 100 percent of the funding for the tools and equipment used to analyze the water samples came from state and federal tax payers.

So you have a fringe group of people, selectively choosing studies and portions of studies to fit their agenda, while ignoring studies paid for by fellow activist groups because the results don’t align with said agenda, and completely disregarding the will of the people they say they are standing up for. Not to mention the whole fact that Ohio’s Supreme Court declared in 2015 that local governments cannot supersede state authority by banning oil and gas development. So, even if the ban were to pass after so many failed attempts, it would likely mean an expensive court proceeding to determine if its even legal, which by the Supreme Court’s definition it would not be.

At the end of the day, this latest attempt to force Youngstown voters to the polls for a sixth time on an issue they have clearly made a decision on, is nothing more than a drain on those residents. WKBN reporter, Gerry Riccuitti, said it best,

“So it’s fear in the minds of some that a very small minority can hold the rest of the city hostage.

And after five previous failed attempts, the cost for that ransom is getting pretty high for taxpayers and incredibly draining on a city and region that has seen incredible improvements thanks to a thriving shale industry.

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