Government

Opponents Set to Defeat Fracking Question 6th Time

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The press event Tuesday morning in the hall of Teamsters Local 377 could have been a scene from the 1993 fantasy-comedy movie “Groundhog Day,” except as Mayor John A. McNally noted, “This is not something for us to joke about.”

The something was the sixth point-by-point rebuttal by the Mahoning County Coalition for Job Growth and Investment to the sixth effort of Committee for the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights to amend the Youngstown Charter Nov. 8 and ban the business of energy extraction within city limits.

Nine members of the committee, led by Susie Beiersdorfer, stood across 1223 Teamsters Drive wearing cardboard signs and carrying placards urging passage of the amendment. They decried the “elected officials political parties, some local and church leaders, some unions and others who would support profit over people and pollution over the planet,” as Beiersdorfer wrote in the packet she distributed to the press.

Inside the union hall, McNally, acting as emcee, led off the rebuttal followed by Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber; Rocky DiGennaro, president of the Western Reserve Building and Construction Trades Council; Ron Massullo, executive vice chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party; the Rev. Ken Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church; and Jaladah Aslam, staff representative for AFSCME Council 8 and representing Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council.

In the audience were Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University; Mark Munroe, chairman of the Mahoning County Republican Party; Dave Deibel, president and CEO of Boardman Steel Inc.; attorney Martha Bushey of Manchester, Newman & Bennett; Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti; and several members of the building trades unions including Local 396 of the Plumbers and Pipefitters, Local 171 of the Carpenters, Local 66 of the Operating Engineers and Local 377 of the Teamsters.

The Committee for the Youngstown Bill of Rights, McNally began, has engaged in “half-truths and incomplete statements” in its arguments to persuade Youngstown voters to pass the charter amendment.

More than the committee realizes, or would admit, the language in the charter — assuming it weren’t overturned in court — could bring to a halt all business and activity related to the extraction and use of natural gas and oil. It would not stop simply at a ban on fracking and the disposal of fracking waste in injection wells within the city. It would extend to connecting gas lines to new buildings.

As for the safety of the water residents drink, Youngstown is a distributor of the water the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District treats, the mayor pointed out. The accusation that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency three times in the last three years notified the city “that our drinking water is in VIOLATION of safe drinking water standards [emphasis in committee’s packet]” is another incomplete truth, McNally said.

The U.S. EPA notified the city only once,” he said, and the notification was “not related to injection wells or fracking.”

The charter amendment “does nothing to protect Youngstown residents or businesses,” he said.

The committee, McNally allowed, “is well-intentioned,” but passage would not change the fact that “control is in Columbus [with the Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources] and that’s the way it should be.”

Humphries was more concerned about the message that passage of the charter amendment would send to businesses considering locating or expanding here.

“Thirty-one percent of the supply chain for that industry [oil and gas] is here [in the Mahoning Valley],” the president of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber said, “and the [charter amendment] would jeopardize our efforts to attract those companies and create jobs.”

Allowing that his statistics are somewhat dated, Humphries told a reporter that some 4,000 jobs in the Valley were related to the energy industry. It could be fewer because the drop in the prices of petroleum and natural gas has caused wells in the Utica shale to curtail or halt production.

The EPAs and ODNR protect Valley residents, Humphries said, and passing the amendment would not make them any safer. If the committee were realistic about enacting additional safeguards, City Council is the venue to pass more legislation if it were needed.

Five members of City Council and its president, Charles Sammarone, are listed as members of the Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, according to the advance sent to the press Monday.

The charter amendment, Aslam said, “has nothing to do with fracking. All it is, is an attack on jobs. It’s ridiculous, irresponsible, and was not written by people here but outsiders,” to wit, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, based in Carlisle, Pa.

Afterward in response, Beiersdorfer said the legal defense fund did write the language on the ballot but, “It was written with Youngstown residents on a conference call.”

DiGennaro picked up the attack on “the job-killing community bill of rights. …

“We [the building trades unions] want to rebuild Youngstown,” he said. Had it be passed in the five earlier attempts, the language in the measure could have been interpreted to stop “the Youngstown City Annex project, the rehabilitation of the [Central] YMCA and the Mahoning County Courthouse” because workmen could not install or replace gas lines to the buildings.

The charter amendment “is a waste of money and resources,” he said, that could be better spent elsewhere.

Natural gas is the fuel that will power the electricity generators of the future as coal is phased out, Massullo said after identifying himself, “I am a clean energy voter.”

Afterward, Beiersdorfer asserted, “Natural gas is not cleaner than coal” in its effects on the environment, that the methane contributes to air pollution and global warming just as much as coal.

Reminded that passage isn’t likely to withstand a legal challenge, Beiersdorfer said the Community Bill of Rights would send a message, that “The system is fixed against us.”

The United States would be better off if the “subsidies to oil were put into renewable sources of energy,” she said, such as wind and solar and noted the decline of Ohio as a leader in working to make wind and solar as economical as fossil fuels as the primary source of energy.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.