Appalachian Basin

Will Ohio Taxpayers Be On the Hook Yet Again for Failed Ballot Measures Pushed By Out-Of-State Interests?

Despite its previous failure to pass ballot measures in Ohio – at the expense of taxpayers – and a federal judge ruling its far-reaching “rights of nature” initiatives are “unconstitutionally vague and exceeds the power of municipal government in Ohio,” the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is at it again.

CELDF, in partnership with the Citizens for Rights of the Ohio River Watershed (CROW), is seeking to gather 5,400 signatures to place a Cincinnati Charter amendment on the November ballot that would create a “bill of rights” for the Ohio River and its watershed. The Charter amendment intends to give residents the legal authority to sue on behalf of the river whenever they simply believe an industry or development is threatening the ecosystem.

Due to the vagueness and extremity of this initiative, CELDF’s amendment would pose major harm not only to the communities in Ohio that rely on the oil and natural gas industry for jobs, revenues, and energy supplies but on any industry in proximity to the Ohio river and its watershed.

For example, one of the “rights” that CELDF attempts to assign to the Ohio River is so arbitrary that just the sight of industry activity near the river or its watershed could be grounds to sue:

“The Ecosystem has specific rights to…Health: no person or any government may impair the Ecosystem’s health, meaning generally, but not limited to, the integrity, stability, resilience, and beauty of the Ecosystem as a biodiverse community of interacting organisms.”

Predictably, not once in its nine-page proposal does CROW recognize the effect it would have on job growth and communities that rely on the Ohio River for their livelihood. The oil and natural gas industry is committed to ensuring a healthy and safe environment but also understands that environmental prosperity, new jobs, and economic growth can all exist together. In fact, because of the increased use of natural gas, America has dramatically reduced its carbon emissions and improved local air quality while helping to grow the economy.

In addition to the negative consequences that a “bill of rights” for a non-human resource would have, Cincinnati residents need to know about the group behind this initiative and its underlying motivations to essentially grant land citizenship.

What is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)?

CELDF is a nonprofit law firm based in Mercersburg, Pa. It offers communities “free” services to draft local ordinances and provide legal representation for the communities that pass them. Ordinances – which go by names such as “Community Bill of Rights,” “Rights of Nature,” or “Charter amendments or home rule” initiatives – often fail or end up in litigation, ultimately costing taxpayers in those communities.

Specifically, CELDF focuses on using litigation to drive conversation, regardless of the cost that these cases can bring to municipalities and taxpayers. When asked about the group’s ultimate motivation, CELDF’s founder Thomas Linzey explained his at-all costs attitude toward passing his agenda. AS Reuters reported:

“Linzey says his goal is not to write local laws that are popular, or stand up in court, but rather to trigger a public debate about community rights to local self-government – even if it means a community ultimately falls into financial ruin.” (emphasis added)

History of Failures

To date, CELDF’s efforts in Pennsylvania and Ohio have been nothing but an utter failure – its desire to prolong litigation even when it knows it has zero chance of winning is well documented. In 2018, a Pennsylvania federal judge reprimanded CELDF attorneys, including Linzey, for “bad faith” efforts to impose a ban on an injection well in Grant Township. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Baxter ordered the organization to pay $52,000 in legal costs and said in her ruling:

“This Court has determined that Attorneys Linzey and Dunne have pursued certain claims and defenses in bad faith. Based upon prior CELDF litigation, each was on notice of the legal implausibility of the arguments previously advanced…”

“Despite their own prior litigation, CELDF and Attorney Linzey, in particular, continue to advance discredited arguments as a basis for CELDF’s ill-conceived and sponsored CBR, and in doing so have vexatiously multiplied the litigation of this matter.” (emphasis added)

Further, CELDF’s failed initiatives have already cost taxpayers in places such as Youngstown tens of thousands of dollars. Voters in the city rejected CELDF ballot initiatives no less than eight times. The costs to taxpayers don’t appear to bother Linzey, who said:

If a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.” (emphasis added)

How can CELDF afford such repeated failure? It’s funded through foundations and private donations like the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Heinz Endowments, Wallace Global Fund, and others that actively support anti-fracking and anti-industry groups and initiatives.

Bottom line: As recent years have demonstrated, CELDF will continue to advance its unlawful and unconstitutional agenda so long as wealthy foundations that fund the “Keep It In the Ground” agenda continue to provide the means for it to do so, regardless of the consequences or will of Ohio’s residents.

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