I know many citizens of Ohio are shocked by the recent revelation that our state appointed regulatory agencyis actually promoting drilling, and working to “convince” the public that it is safe. But I’m not.
Call it “lessons learned on the front lines.” Based on personal experience with drilling in my hometown, I was not surprised when I read this information on the ODNR’s 12-page memo listing allies, threats, and strategies to convince us that drilling in state parks was a good idea. I was not surprised to read notes that revealed the Governor’s office, Halliburton, the Ohio EPA, Local Chambers of Commerce and media outlets like the Youngstown Vindicator are “allies” and environmental groups are considered “threats.”
With 90 wells in a 13-square mile residential community, residents in my hometown of Broadview Heights, OH, learned several years ago that the ODNR was not on our side. We learned that our local officials had their authority stripped from them by a legislature that was bought and paid for with industry lobby money according to a Common Cause report. We learned that even though there were Ohio EPA regulations on the books requiring air permits at drilling sites, not one was issued. We learned that citizens and even the city, none of whom wanted to sign a lease and were force “pooled” into a drilling unit against their will and wanted to appeal, had to do so before an ODNR panel that was stacked in favor of the industry. So no, this revelation about our state regulatory agency did not have the same impact on me as it has had on others.
Rather than feeling shocked, I’m excited. Excited at the thought that maybe now, people will see what is really going on. Maybe they’ll see that our structure of law and government is one that favors commerce and corporate profits above all else. Above the health, safety and welfare of the people and the environment in our communities. A system that is rigged to give more rights to a powerful, wealthy minority over the rights of the people who live in a community and who will directly suffer the harms.
Our government knows that we have unalienable rights, and that these include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We create government to protect these rights, and we have the right to alter, reform or abolish government that is not protecting our rights, and to institute a new one. Isn’t polluting our water, air and soil interfering with our right to life?
When our local government can no longer protect us because a state appointed regulatory agency preempts their authority, it is time for “the people” to protect themselves. In November 2012, this is exactly what the citizens of Broadview Heights did. Using our constitutional right to an initiative petition and with the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, we placed a Bill of Rights Charter Amendment on the ballot that prohibited any more drilling in our city because it violated our rights to clean air, water and local self government. Over 67% of the voters approved our citizen driven law, and since its adoption, not one new permitted well has been drilled in my hometown.
I want citizens in other communities to realize that in a democracy, it is “we the people”, who have rights, and that we need to protect ourselves. We cannot and should not rely on the ODNR, the Ohio EPA, the FDA and other non-elected agencies to protect us. We must realize that when an agency, like the ODNR “regulates” a harm, we are not protected from that harm, but subjected to it. Instead we need to say “No” to the harm. Communities in Ohio directly affected by decisions dealing with drilling should be the ones making them, not the ODNR. Thanks to this memo being exposed, I am hopeful and excited to think that today, this is obvious to many more Ohio residents, and that the people will take action to protect their communities by asserting their rights at the local level.