Full Senate Set to Vote Today
(Posted by Trent Dougherty, Director of Legal Affairs)
Despite the fact that opponents of the state park drilling bill came out in full force for the eighth hearing in a row, HB133 passed the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, yesterday, 6-3. Unlike the party line vote in the House Committee, one Democrat, Sen. Jason Wilson (Columbiana), crossed party lines to support the bill after securing an Amendment to require 30% of the proceeds from a park drilling lease to be earmarked for that specific park. This vote was offset by Republican Sen. Tim Grendell’s (R-Chesterland) vote against the bill.
In an even rarer move, after announcing he would be leaving the Senate at month’s end for a job as President of the Ohio Gas Association — a natural gas trade organization which represents more than 30 local distribution companies and cooperatives, and the vast majority of all intrastate and interstate gas transmission firms — Senator Jimmy Stewart (R-Albany) continued to sit on Committee and ask questions of the opponents of the bill. However, when it was time for amendments and the final vote, Stewart was replaced on the Committee by Senator Kris Jordan (R-Powell).
The fact that the Senator Stewart will soon be representing a trade association that will obviously benefit from state gas drilling, did give, at least, the perception of a conflict of interest. While fear of a true conflict was not evident, the Committee leadership’s decision to replace Stewart was the right move. Grumblings of potential complaints to the Joint Legislative Ethics Commission by some of his constituents who were in the crowd during the Committee recess, however, may also have played a part in sparking such a move.
Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), who represents the district that is home to Hocking Hills State Park, Tar Hollow State Park and Strouds Run, secured an Amendment requiring the new Oil and Gas Leasing Commission to publish public notices about any lands nominated for exploration, and requiring the Commission to consider public input on nominations to lease state lands.
While, in OEC’s opinion, the legislation is still fatally flawed, Senator Schaffer and the Committee should be commended for finally giving a voice to the people in this process. If the industry-dominated Oil and Gas Leasing Commission will be able to pick and choose where drilling is to occur in our state parks, the people of Ohio – who use these parks and who are the true owners of these parks – should have, at least, the ability to express opposition or even support for drilling in OUR parks.
However, not all amendments fared as well. Senator Grendell offered 16 separate amendments to strengthen the protections of state land; protect Lake Erie; and make the industry and its Oil and Gas Leasing Commission more accountable to the people. Similarly, Democratic Sens. Joe Schiavoni (Austintown) and Edna Brown (Toledo) sought several other amendments that would have provided for similar protections of our state parks and the other sensitive state lands, all of which were tabled.
State Park land accounts for a mere 115,300 acres – 0.43% of Ohio’s 26,449,920 total acreage. This means that over 99.5% of the state’s public and private land is already available for oil and gas drilling (TODAY). There are places that are just meant to be off limits to industrial activity. For generations, the Ohio General Assembly has promised that our State Parks are just those types of protected places. A vote for this bill breaks that promise.
Governor John J. Gilligan, in the 1970’s, went down as the Governor who closed the parks, albeit temporarily. Will this Administration go down as the one who privatized the parks (and for 12.5 cents on the dollar, nonetheless)? We will see soon enough. The full Senate is poised to vote on the legislation, today, at 1:30 pm.
See the session LIVE.