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Ohio Town OKs 'Environmental Bill of Rights'

Supporters of an "environmental bill of rights" charter amendment in Mansfield, OH, prevailed at the polls last week, but opponents of the measure fear it could be used beyond its intended purpose -- to possibly block wastewater injection wells -- and applied to other types of business.

Mansfield Law Director John Spon told NGI that Amendment A to Article I of the city's charter passed by a margin on 63-27%. It establishes that city residents have the right to sustainable water, clean air and a sustainable energy future. Although the third item doesn't specifically mention natural gas, it stipulates that it "is not limited to" renewable fuel sources. But the amendment also bans wastewater injection wells within the city limits without the written consent of the city council. That ban appears to apply to all wells, regardless if they are permitted through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

"It doesn't constitute as an outright ban," Spon said. "Our city, as a result of this enabling legislation, will continue to pass ordinances which are reasonable regulations to protect our citizens and their drinking water." Spon said the city would pass additional ordinances requiring injection well operators disclose the chemical contents of wastewater set for disposal, and to provide the city with 5,- 15- and 30-year mitigation plans. We also reserve the right to obtain samples and to test the injection well fluid prior to injection, and to do so at any time without prior notice," Spon said, adding that a final ordinance "would prohibit the injected fluid from migrating beyond the parcel that was permitted by the ODNR. In other words, if a company has a right to inject into a particular parcel, it cannot cause the migration of that fluid to go beyond the boundaries into adjacent owner's property."

Linda Woggon, executive vice president for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, said the organization opposed the charter amendment because its scope was too broad.

"The big issue for us is that the charter amendment says that any permit or license issued by the state of Ohio -- if it violates any of the rights enumerated in the charter amendment -- is not valid unless approved by the Mansfield City Council," Woggon told NGI. "It seemed to us that almost any permit issued by the state to a business in Mansfield could be found to be invalid if it violated a right."

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