Posts Tagged ‘State Parks’

Columbus-A press conference held this afternoon in the Ohio Statehouse announced the launch of the Coalition to Protect Ohio’s Parks (CPOP).  The Coalition was launched in response to recent legislation that, for the first time, have opened Ohio’s state parks to oil and gas drilling, including high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (HB 133) along with commercial logging, including clear-cutting (HB 153).

A shared concern of coalition members is the fact that state parks were, until recently, one of the very few places in Ohio protected from drilling.  “Ohio is 7th in the nation in population, but ranks a mere 47th in public lands available per capita,” said John Makley of Mohican Advocates.  “We have a duty to future generations to keep heavy development out of the relatively few public natural areas that exist in Ohio.”

The timing of the coalition’s launch comes a little more than a month before a new public lands leasing nomination process is set to take effect.  In addition to opening parks for drilling for the first time in their history, HB 133 created a new leasing process that requires state lands to be nominated to a new Oil and Gas Leasing Commission prior to leasing. “The Leasing Commission has authority to deny leases and will take public comments prior to making any leasing determinations; this makes the coalition’s work all the more important, as we will work to make sure the public is aware of and ready for specific nominations,” added Johnson.

Coalition members are concerned that ODNR has not been open with the public about plans to lease state lands and that the agency has pushed public interest groups to the side while consulting with industry in the development of its proposed leasing program. Despite concerns about the legislation expressed by park lovers and environmental advocacy groups, ODNR has not been open in their implementation of the legislation,” said Loraine McCosker of Sierra Club. “Recent e-mails released by ODNR show that state officials have consulted with the oil and gas industry on lease terms and conditions, while ignoring the concerns of park users and advocates.”

Coalition members shared a list from ODNR outlining some of the parks and state forests targeted by ODNR for early leasing. Four state parks appear on the list of lands targeted for early leasing: Beaver Creek Park, Guilford Lake Park, Jefferson Lake State Park, and Barkcamp State Park.  In addition, five state forests appear on the list: Yellow Creek State Forest, Beaver Creek State Forest, Jefferson State Forest, Harrison State Forest, and Sunfish Creek State Forest. The list was recently obtained as the result of a lawsuit filed by the Ohio Sierra Club to compel ODNR to release public records. Prior to the suit, the agency had failed to disclose information for several months.

The coalition unveiled a new website as part of the launch, www.ProtectOhiosParks.org. The coalition website is intended to serve as an information and action hub for concerned members of the public.  “The new website will have information about the effects of fracking and logging on sensitive lands, but will also provide viewers access to a separate page for each state park and state forest, along with important dates and developments for each park and forest,” said Nathan Johnson, Staff Attorney for the Buckeye Forest Council.

“Ohioans don’t want to ‘get away from it all,’ only to discover drilling rigs, waste pits, haul roads, compressors, pipelines and all the other ‘wonders’ that drilling will plunk down in our parks and forests. Throughout this entire debate, the public has yet to be asked whether they even want their natural treasures opened to industrial development” said Jack Shaner,  Deputy Director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Coalition members who spoke at the launch included Jed Thorp, Chapter Manager of the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter; John Makley of Mohican Advocates; Nathan Johnson, Staff Attorney for The Buckeye Forest Council; Jack Shaner, Deputy Director for the Ohio Environmental Council; and Loraine McCosker of Sierra Club. Ohio House Representative Denise Driehaus was also in attendance and spoke at the event.

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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.

AMENDMENTS

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.

 

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