Community “Bill of Rights” Raises More Questions Than Answers

The proposed Youngstown Community Bill of Rights, on which the community will vote on May 4th, offers more questions than answers.  The charter amendment, which was written by Frack Free Mahoning, is actually a hodgepodge of feel good language, all of which lacks any understanding of what the bill actually enforces.  The group was able to dupe enough unsuspecting residents of Youngstown to get this measure on the ballot in order to further its less than noble cause against not just the oil and gas industry, but most other businesses that operate in the city.

Not only is the measure trying to kill business in Youngstown, but there is also a provision in the ballot that actually tries to circumvent Ohio law and even the U.S. Constitution.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The authors of this bill actually think they can circumvent and even restrict constitutional authority. If that sounds outlandish, it is.  More on that later.

Luckily, there are groups in Youngstown who saw through this smoke and mirrors and are fighting back against this harmful measure.

To fully understand the potential ramifications of the proposed language, Energy In Depth decided to look through the language and offer an analysis on some of these new “Community Rights” that the measure would enshrine into law.

Section 4: Community Bill of Rights:

A. Right to Pure Water. All residents, natural communities and ecosystems in The City of Youngstown possess a fundamental and inalienable right to sustainably access, use, consume, and preserve water drawn from natural water cycles that provide water necessary to sustain life within the City.

  • Everybody wants clean water.  In fact, that’s the reason why the United States has the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, two federal acts (among others) under which the oil and gas industry is regulated.
  • If the authors are somehow claiming that hydraulic fracturing or disposal wells will affect their water, let’s look at the facts.  Over 1.2 million wells nationwide, as well as 80,000 wells in the state of Ohio alone, have been hydraulically fractured without one single incident of groundwater contamination.  This has been repeatedly reported by the U.S. EPA and state regulators across the United States.
  • In terms of disposal wells, the U.S. EPA regulates these under the Class II Underground Injection Control Program. The agency has granted Ohio primacy since 1983 for the wells in our state, and there has not been one single case of groundwater contamination from disposal wells.
  • Industries that discharge into rivers and other public waterways must obtain NPDES permits from the Ohio EPA.  Would these permits still be valid in the city of Youngstown, or would there now be new effluent limits set by “citizens” that would make federal and state standards moot?

B.  Right to Clean Air. All residents, natural communities and ecosystems in the City of Youngstown possess a fundamental and inalienable right to breathe air untainted by toxins, carcinogens, particulates and other substances known to cause harm to health.

  • Again, this is why we have the Clean Air Act, another act the oil and natural gas industry follows, which sets emissions, ozone and air quality standards for the entire country (last we checked, Ohio is still part of the United States).  But let’s face it, without any permits or specific emission standards, this amendment language could essentially shut down Humility of Mary Health PartnersYoungstown State UniversityV&M Star,  National Additive Manufacturing Institute and pretty much anything else that allows our economy to operate.  If your business emits anything — anything — you would be in violation of this bill of rights, as would all of those cars that the majority of Youngstown residents drive.
  • Permits are created and issued by federal and state governments for this very reason (that seems so elementary, but it’s clearly something that escaped the ideologues who wrote this character amendment).  Emissions that are inevitably created from any activity that occurs in our diverse economy must obviously be managed. But, if no emissions can be created whatsoever, then not even the construction of windmills could occur. How would Youngstown continue to operate — or any city, for that matter?

C.    Right to Peaceful Enjoyment of Home. Residents of the City of Youngstown possess a fundamental and inalienable right to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, free from interference, intrusion, nuisances, or impediments to access and occupation.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world free from the sound of a neighbor’s dog, an airplane flying over the house, a train blowing its whistle when going through an intersection or the sound of a neighboring business?  Sounds great — and this proposed amendment would literally make all of those items against the law since anyone can claim any nuisance goes against their newly anointed “right” to live unobstructed by economic activity.
  • This begs an important question: Why would any new business want to come to Youngstown if they could be charged with with something as arbitrary as a “nuisance” simply for bringing new goods and services into the city? The authors would have been better suited — and more honest — if the language required Youngstown to construct a sign at the city limits that says “Closed for Business.”

D.    Rights to be Free from Toxic Trespass. All residents, natural communities and ecosystems in Youngstown possess a fundamental and inalienable right to be free from toxic trespass and to be free from unwanted invasions of their bodies by any means, including but not limited to, trespass by manufactured chemicals, toxins, pathogens, or radioactive substances and progeny.

  • What equates to toxic trespass?  Would the “manufactured chemicals” that the city puts into drinking water to kill bacteria and other contaminants be considered a toxic trespass? Would the emissions from a local manufacturer or business that is in compliance with the Clean Air Act be considered a violator of this new Community Bill of Rights? How about a truck delivering a shipment of laundry detergent to the local Walmart? Unfortunately the authors of this measure don’t provide specifics, so all of these perfectly normal activities would conceivably be grounds for a lawsuit.

E.   Rights of Natural Communities. Natural communities and ecosystems, including, but not limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers, and other water systems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Youngstown. Residents of the City shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights on behalf of those natural communities and ecosystems.

  •  So now, natural communities and ecosystems, including but not limited to wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers, and other water systems possess the same rights as a person. If a person cuts down a tree on his own property, would this be classified as murder? Heck, even stepping on a spider on the sidewalk could be considered grounds for legal action. The audacity of this provision is truly amazing, due once again to the fact that it is written with such vagueness.
  • Companies building new office space occasionally have to re-route small streams or remove a wetland. Instead of simply preventing new businesses from being created — and, on the other side, as a means of not allowing companies to alter the environment in any way they please — such re-routing is a way to achieve economic growth while also protecting the environment. Would companies be able to perform the same actions under this new measure, or would Youngstown’s residents be forced to live in a prison of red tape and fear of legal reprisal for simply harboring an interest in starting a new business?

As you can see, with only going through the first five sections, this ballot initiative does nothing that will benefit Youngstown, and would, in fact, leave the city in dramatically worse economic shape for perpetuity.

But let us also take a look at some the most preposterous  oil and gas specific language for a few more examples of how out of touch this ballot initiative truly is:

“It shall be unlawful for any person or corporation, or any director, officer, owner, or manager of a corporation to us a corporation, to deposit, store or transport waste water, ‘produced’ water, ‘frack’ water, brine or other materials, chemicals or by-products used in the extraction of gas or oil, within, upon or through the land, air or waters of The City of Youngstown.”

  • Banning the transportation of brine or any other oil and gas material through the City of Youngstown is a pretty tall order.  Will the police have a border checkpoint set up in all sections of the city to make sure nothing gets through?
  • And what, exactly, constitutes “other materials?”  Steel plants cannot sell pipe and ship it from Youngstown?  None of the manufacturers in the entire city are allowed to supply the oil and gas industry with any goods, since they would have to ship them from Youngstown?  The restrictions are endless with the way the authors have written this language.
  • Lastly, under the Interstate Commerce Clause, a city cannot restrict the transportation of goods coming through its borders.
  • With this magical Community Bill of Rights, Youngstown supposedly now does not have to answer to the State of Ohio or even U.S. law.  This new Bill of Rights will effectively remove rights afforded by the U.S. and Ohio Constitutions as well as overturn the commerce clause in the city. A bill of rights that actually removes rights — that’s a new one!

“Corporations in violation of the prohibition against gas and oil extraction, or seeking to engage in gas or oil extraction shall not have the rights of ‘persons’ afforded by the United States and Ohio Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the commerce clauses within the United States Constitution, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the commerce or contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Ohio Constitution.”

  • Yes, you read that correctly: this bill of rights is literally attempting to nullify the United States Constitution. Whatever your thoughts on corporations and “personhood,” the notion that a city can simply declare itself exempt from the supreme law of the land is certifiably absurd.

Now that we have taken a look at the questionable ballot initiative put before the voters in May, lets take a look at what the oil and gas industry has helped bring the city of Youngstown — all of which would be threatened if this measure were to pass.

  • The Youngstown-Warren metro area had the third highest job growth in 2011. V&M Star makes steel pipe for the oil and gas industry and has invested $1.1 billion in their facilities located in Youngstown, which has resulted in 350 new jobs.
  • Exterran has invested $13 million into their facility and will employ 80 local residents who will manufacture oil and gas compression stations for the oil and gas industry.
  • Youngstown ranks 5th highest in manufacturing growth in the nation, according to Forbes magazine in 2011, thanks in large part to oil and gas development.

Simply put, oil and gas development is reshaping Youngstown for the better.  Thankfully, groups like the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Growth and Investment have called them out the authors of this proposed amendment for their misinformation and misleading effort.  When such a large group of individuals — which actually employs hardworking men and women in the Youngstown region — comes together and points out the enormous ramifications this measure will have on them and their employees, it’s difficult to ignore. And given the impacts that the initiative would have on this community, more people should be listening to the Coalition.

As you can see, the proposed charter amendment is not simply anti-oil and gas; it is anti-business and anti-Youngstown.

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