Appalachian Basin

Taxpayers Spared on Footing the Bill As CELDF Defeated Yet Again In Youngstown

Voters, taxpayers and lawyers in the city of Youngstown, OH will be spared from a ninth iteration of an anti-fracking charter amendment this year, as backers of the “Community Bill of Rights” failed to submit required documents to the local board of elections to have the measure placed on the ballot. Despite repeated failures at the ballot box – and in the courts – the Community  Environmental Legal Defense Fund-backed organizers have not, however, ruled out a return in 2020, despite acknowledging a lack of community support in recent news coverage:

“We are so freakin’ tired,” said Lynn Anderson, another anti-fracking committee member. “We have begged people to help us. It’s horrifying to know all this is happening. I’ve spent so much time going door-to-door getting signatures and doing it with so few people. I haven’t given up, but where are the people standing with me? We have a small group, and we’re not getting help from others.” (emphasis added)

Ballot Beat Downs

While the city’s voters have spoken repeatedly and decisively each time the issue has been put forth, organizers are still not ruling out filing again in 2020, according to interviews with the Youngstown Vindicator. Susie Beiersdorfer, a prominent member of Frackfree Mahoning and a litigant in a related lawsuit filed against the Secretary of State, stated:

“I really don’t know if we’ll be back in 2020, but we’re definitely not giving up.”

In a bit of irony, Anderson proclaimed to the Vindicator that she “thought we had a democracy, but we have an oligarchy.”

EID has previously covered the eight-times-democratically-rejected Youngstown charter amendment at length.

In addition to the voters, key members of the business and labor communities are pining for the group’s anti-oil and natural gas efforts to fall by the wayside. Nick Santucci of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber (a member of the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth, which opposed the initiatives) tells EID:

“Placing the community bill of rights on the ballot in the Mahoning Valley is costly and has failed continuously. I think it is advantageous for our community to embrace the consistent decision of the people and redirect these energies and resources to improving other aspects of the Mahoning Valley.”

Court Deals Final, Final Blow

In September of 2018, the Ohio Supreme Court dealt what appeared to be a death-blow to groups looking to place these issues on the ballot, as the high court ruled in favor of upholding the decisions of the Franklin and Lucas County boards of election to remove anti-fracking/”Community Bill of Rights” initiatives from their ballots, as the measures exceeded local authority for implementation.

In February, Susie Beiersdorfer joined with activists in Athens, Franklin, Lucas, Medina, Meigs and Portage counties – all of which have tried and failed to pass similar “Community Bill of Rights” or anti-fracking ballot measures – in filing a lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and a number of Boards of Elections for using what it claimed were “unconstitutional tactics” in keeping these types of initiatives from going before voters. The suit also claimed the state is violating the First Amendment as the secretary of state and local boards of election are allowed to review the content of the measures they reject, rather than solely making determinations based on whether they conform with elections law.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Youngstown, was recently ruled on by U.S. District Judge Benita Pearson, who dismissed Secretary LaRose from the suit, and dismissed the claims made against LaRose and the boards of elections in Mahoning and Lucas Counties.

In her ruling, Judge Pearson noted the groups were never excluded from the election process, and noted:

“Plaintiffs offer nothing more than conclusory allegations that the ballot initiative statutes were applied based on content.”

Defeat Repeat?

Whether it’s at the ballot box or the courthouse, CELDF and its affiliates continue to suffer defeat after defeat in Ohio. While some activists and even presidential candidates are making noise and drawing attention in their calls for an end to fracking, the Buckeye State is hearing none of it.

There’s an old campaign adage that “all politics are local,” and it’s one those seeking the White House may do well to understand if they wish to carry this keystone state in 2020.

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