Residents in three Ohio counties contend in a lawsuit that Secretary of State Jon Husted violated their rights when he invalidated ballot proposals they offered that would have restricted development projects related to the gas-drilling technique known as fracking.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund helped the residents in Fulton, Medina and Athens counties to craft the ballot proposals and to sue Husted in the Ohio Supreme Court.
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They're challenging his decision last week to remove from the Nov. 3 ballots a series of "community rights county charters" that contain bans on fracking-related infrastructure projects. Such projects include pipelines and injection wells for disposing of wastewater created in the fracking process, also known as hydraulic fracturing.
The defense fund alleges Husted violated the residents' constitutional right to try to change or pass laws through ballot initiatives.
"Secretary Husted has set himself up as Ohio's censorship goalie," Terry Lodge, one of the lawyers in the case, said in a press release. "If the 'wrong' idea comes up for a vote, he, alone, can veto to cancel the election. If the Ohio Supreme Court OKs this arrangement look for every future referendum that involves people versus corporations to disappear through the Husted loophole in Ohio."
Spokesman Josh Eck said Husted's ruling was "fully rooted in Ohio law."
It came in response to protests filed against the charter measures, which proponents also tried but failed to get on ballots in other Ohio counties. The County Commissioners Association of Ohio, for example, had argued the charters as proposed would leave the counties without an authorized form of government.
Husted determined that each proposal tried to circumvent state law in a way that courts have ruled violates the Ohio Constitution. He said state law on fracking already has been litigated.
"If we were to allow this to proceed, it would result in a very costly battle that would be ended by the Supreme Court anyway," Eck said.
Ohio's high court ruled 4-3 in February that the home rule clause of Ohio's constitution doesn't allow a municipality to block drilling activities otherwise permitted by the state. The decision came in a case brought by the Akron suburb of Munroe Falls against Beck Energy Corp. over a 2004 state law that gives Ohio "sole and exclusive authority" to regulate the location of wells.
The plaintiffs say county residents have been inundated by fracking infrastructure projects and are turning to county charters to protect their own health, safety, and welfare.