Environmental groups have launched a last-minute effort to halt an extraordinary new law in Ohio that requires government agencies to lease state parks and other public state lands to the oil and gas industry.
A temporary injunction filed on Thursday seeks to put the brakes on legislation that requires state parks to be leased for fracking and which redefines the potent greenhouse gas methane as “green energy”. The law was due to go into effect on 7 April, but the court has not yet responded to the injunction.
The law, which began life as an agricultural bill about the number of poultry chicks that can be sold at one time, quickly grew in scope and size to grant wins for agriculture corporate giants, and the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries.
In addition to giving carte blanche to the fossil fuel industry to frack Ohio’s 75, very popular, state parks, the sweeping bill also includes new provisions for agriculture and electric utilities, as well as a ban on the sale of dyed chicks, rabbits and ducklings.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of campaign groups Buckeye Environmental Network, Ohio Valley Allies, the Sierra Club and the Ohio Environmental Council, alleges that the law is unconstitutional. The groups say it violates the state constitution’s one-subject rule, which requires laws to contain one subject that is clearly expressed in the title, and the three-consideration rule, which requires the legislature to consider every bill on three separate days.
“This law is nothing more than an illegitimate giveaway to the oil and gas industry,” said Megan Hunter, an attorney for Earthjustice, the legal non-profit representing some of the appellants. “We will defend Ohio’s public lands from this unconstitutional attack.”
State lawmakers passed the expansive bill with little discussion or fanfare after a final reading in the Ohio senate chambers during a lame-duck session at the end of 2022.
Ignoring pressure to veto the bill, Governor Mike DeWine signed it into the statute book on 6 January after reassuring protesters he would prohibit any new drilling in Ohio state parks – even though the law removes the state’s discretion to deny those leases.
Oil and gas leasing was already allowed at state parks, but the new law mandates state agencies to lease to any interested party with insurance and financial assurances that has registered with the Ohio natural resources department – without going to auction or giving public notice or opportunity for public comment.
In addition, the new law defines methane gas as “green energy” – a term typically reserved for solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. Methane is a fossil fuel greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere at 80 times the rate of carbon dioxide, which is responsible for about 25% of the heat trapped by all greenhouse gases.
An outside dark-money group with ties to the gas industry helped push a false narrative that the law will help the transition to clean energy, according to the Washington Post.
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