Today, Ohio community and environmental groups filed a preliminary injunction to stop the leasing of Ohio state parks and other public lands to the oil and gas industry. On April 7, 2023, Ohio HB 507 will go into effect requiring the leasing of state parks for fracking, redefining methane gas as “green energy,” and a list of unrelated agricultural provisions. The groups are hoping to stop the mandatory leasing of public lands for fracking, but also take issue with the constitutionality of the law itself.
Buckeye Environmental Network, Ohio Valley Allies, and Sierra Club are represented by Earthjustice in this legal challenge. The Ohio Environmental Council is represented by its attorneys alongside counsel from Earthjustice and Case Western Environmental Law Clinic.
“It is because of the grassroots efforts of Ohioans who were shocked at the underhanded way the legislators passed an illegal amendment during the last weeks of the General Assembly in 2022, that we are filing this lawsuit today,” said Cheryl Johncox, Chairperson, Board of Directors, Buckeye Environmental Network. “Ohioans love their parks and forest lands and will not tolerate lawmakers turning blind eyes to what will happen to the beauty and integrity of the lands that belong to the people. Oil and gas extraction will irrevocably and permanently harm our most treasured places in Ohio. We, the people, will not stand by and allow this to happen.”
What started as an agricultural bill focused on poultry quickly became a bill that included numerous unrelated subjects at the last reading of the bill in the Ohio Senate chambers during a lame duck session. The last-minute additions to the bill quickly passed through the chambers without discussion or fanfare. Governor Mike DeWine signed the controversial bill into law on January 6, 2023, despite demands to veto the bill.
“This law is nothing more than an illegitimate giveaway to the oil and gas industry,” said Megan Hunter, attorney for Earthjustice. “We will defend Ohio’s public lands from this unconstitutional attack. We will see the state in court.”
“Governor DeWine has declared there will be no surface disruption on public lands, and the industry is claiming their operations can be done without impacting the surface. Yet HB 507 allows oil and gas companies to negotiate an agreement which allows for surface impacts, such as frack pads, pipelines, access roads, timber removal, and water usage on our public lands,” stated Jill Hunkler, Executive Director, Ohio Valley Allies. “This must not be allowed to occur. Is the short term monetary gain from fracking operations worth the destruction of our public lands and parks that consistently and significantly enrich our state budget? The answer is absolutely not.”
Oil and gas companies are already circling Ohio’s state parks and have already asked for leases. HB 507 removes the State’s discretion to deny those leases. It does not even require an auction or that leases go to the highest bidder. Instead, it simply mandates that state agencies lease to any interested party with insurance and financial assurances that has registered with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Under HB 507’s mandatory leasing provision, Ohioans will receive no public notice on what lands will be leased and have no opportunity for public comment.
“We as Ohioans deserve to have our voices heard when the future of our state parks is on the line. The vitality of our public lands is essential to our own well-being,” said Nathan Johnson, Attorney and Public Lands Director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “The OEC files this lawsuit today to defend Ohio’s best places from a dirty industry power grab.”
The groups claim the law is unconstitutional because Ohio’s one-subject rule states that each bill can only contain one subject while HB 507 clearly covers several subject matters. Numerous other provisions in H.B. 507 are distinct and separate from agriculture and food purity, including amendments to statutes governing utilities and motor vehicle enforcement. Separately, Ohio’s three considerations clause states that bills must be brought up for consideration three times before a vote. The general assembly only considered the final version of the bill containing the mandatory leasing provision once in each house.
“The Ohio Constitution places specific requirements upon the Ohio General Assembly to ensure the people have due process and transparency in how our laws are made,” said Chris Tavenor, Associate General Counsel for the Ohio Environmental Council. “The passage of HB 507 represents yet another example of the General Assembly believing it can play by its own rules while disregarding the impacts to the people of Ohio. The OEC is proud to stand by other environmental advocates as we fight the implementation of this unconstitutional law.”
“This is a clear example of the Ohio legislature ignoring constitutional requirements that are in place to ensure Ohio citizens can participate in the legislative process, and if allowed to continue unchecked, could affect even more than Ohio’s cherished state parks and public lands,” said Miranda Leppla, Director Case Western Reserve University Environmental Law Clinic. “The Case Western Environmental Law Clinic looks forward to holding the state accountable to the requirements of our democratic processes and protecting Ohio state lands for future generations.”
“We call upon the Oil and Gas Commission to uphold the mission of the Department of Natural Resources – to ensure a balance between the wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. This mission should be critical when considering oil and gas extraction on our public lands that belong to all of us,” Shelly Corbin, Sierra Club campaign representative said. “Not only will expanding fracking and drilling damage the great lands of Ohio, it will in turn utilize toxic chemicals that will leak into our drinking water sources. This sneaky move by our state officials is a bad deal for Ohioans, and we look forward to our day in court.”