Appalachian Basin

Administrator’s Congressional Testimony Underscores Importance of Shale Development on Public Lands to School Funding

EID has noted several times before that local communities support shale development in Ohio’s Wayne National Forest (WNF), while opposition has primarily come from out-of-state anti-fracking groups that are completely out of touch with the needs of these communities.

A primary example of why folks who actually live and work in the WNF support development was recently highlighted by a prominent member of a WNF community that stretches across 25,000 acres of the forest.

Switzerland of Ohio Local School District Superintendent Jeffrey Greenley testified last week during a U.S. House Natural Resources (HNR) Subcommittee hearing regarding a bill that would further bolster desperately-needed school funding from public land development. Greenley testified that “there is a real sense of hope and optimism in our area as oil and gas wells are drilled and newspapers boast about the various employers that are looking to move into our area,” adding that:

“Proceeds from drilling in Wayne National Forest could bring back art and music into classrooms, both of which were heavily cut in the past few years.”

These are the kind of programs that everyone could benefit from, and yet the out-of-state “Keep It In the Ground” (KIITG) activists seemingly couldn’t care less about this amazing opportunity for Greeley’s rural Ohio school. Instead of recognizing the benefits being provided to our local schools, these KIITG activists continue to use litigious delay tactics to obstruct WNF development via what has become know as environmental “lawfare.” Fortunately, the most commonly abused enviro “lawfare” tactic will be the subject of a HNR hearing entitled “The Weaponization of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Implications of Environmental Lawfare” at 2 p.m. ET on today.

NEPA directly impacts what occurs in the WNF, as it requires the Bureau of Land Management to disclose any significant environmental effects of a proposed action on public lands, and these environmental reviews can typically take three to seven years to complete.

Knowing this full and well, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and other groups filed a lawsuit against the BLM and United States Forest Service (USFS) last year for “failure to account for the impacts of fracking on public health, water, endangered species and the climate” littering the lawsuit with claims that have been addressed or debunked. The lawsuit is the latest chapter in an ongoing KIITG campaign that previously delayed WNF development for nearly a decade and is being utilized as a last-ditch effort to stop development after numerous failed protests.

Unfortunately, these frivolous tactics have real-world consequences not only for Greenley’s school district, but for numerous other rural school districts throughout the WNF and other areas of the United States dependent on revenues from federal lands. Greenley testified:

“What we need are the resources to invest and align our invocational programing with county and regional workforce development goals in order to attract these industries to our county and really have long-term economic development and stability for our students — and we need those revenues now. If not, we feel we’ll miss this tidal wave of innovation and set helplessly by as an opportunity to provide economic stability for our kids slips through our fingers.”

In the past, the 12 WNF counties relied heavily on federal Secure Rural Schools Funding, but that funding was recently cut by 80 percent and the program has not been renewed. And unlike private lands — which are subject to various taxes that support local infrastructure and schools — the 244,240 acres of the Wayne are only subject to Payment in Lieu of Taxes and revenue made possible by the Payments to States Act of 1908, resulting in considerably less revenue compared to schools on private lands. As a result, generating the necessary revenues to fund schools and municipalities within the WNF has been a challenge, as Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson has explained,

“…it degenerates the tax base, makes it very, very difficult for those counties to pay for education and infrastructure programs.”

Shale development has helped lessen the burden, even though the first WNF unconventional drilling permit has yet to be issued. Thus far, WNF lease sales have generated $8M, roughly 20 percent of which will stay at the local level and help fund schools and other essential government services. However, revenues generated by production and subsequent royalties would likely dwarf these significant figures, which is why CBD’s obstruction of development is deplorable.

Washington County Commissioner and Marietta resident Ron Feathers told EID last month,

“We don’t need these national groups coming in from out of state, traveling 2,500 miles to try to dictate how we manage our natural resources in Ohio. They have no vested interest here. They are not paying taxes, and they are not supporting our schools or local fire department. I don’t tell people in California how to eat and they shouldn’t be telling me how to use our minerals.”

Greenley testified that as coal mining and manufacturing jobs have disappeared from the region in recent years, some buildings in the district having poverty rates as high as 90 percent, along with drug and disciplinary problems similar to inner city school districts. That’s why the potential of significant oil and gas development in the WNF has provided needed hope for these communities. As Greenley testified:

“Kevin Highman, a student in our construction and trades program, noted that Monroe County has always been the place for the hard-working man. If this area receives funding from oil and gas, it could tremendously help upgrade our career center and its trades.”

The people who actually live in Wayne National Forest have spoken cleary — they not only want, but desperately need, the economic boost that shale development would bring to their region. Which begs the question: Why are out-of-state groups allowed to block this development with blatant enviro warfare tactics? Fortunately, that question may soon be answered.

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