The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has filed a lawsuit against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted for his recent decision to invalidate petitions in three counties across the state that sought to ban oil and gas development.

CELDF filed the lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of organizers in Athens, Fulton and Medina counties. More than 9,000 people had signed petitions to vote for a charter amendment that would have banned underground injection wells, oil and natural gas exploration and production, or both. Husted decided to invalidate those petitions, removing the charter amendment issue from the Nov. 3 ballot in all three counties (see Shale Daily, Aug. 14).

He said the state’s courts have already found such initiatives to be a violation of the Ohio Constitution and added that, as a result, they are a waste of taxpayers’ “time and money.”

As an election case, the appeal is expected to be fast-tracked, CELDF said. A decision from the high court is expected by Sept. 15.

“The people’s right to initiative is being trounced upon by our own elected secretary of state, who was clearly moved by the arguments of the oil and gas industry, yet not by the very people who elected him,” said CELDF Attorney James Kinsman. “It is the people’s constitutional right to vote on our own initiatives.”

Husted had received protests from all three county boards of elections asking him to determine the validity of the charter petitions as the state’s chief elections officer. While there are active injection wells in Athens and Medina counties, there are none in Fulton County in Western Ohio. Furthermore, there is no unconventional oil and gas development in any of the counties. Organizers in Fulton, however, have been fighting Spectra Energy Corp.’s plans to route the NEXUS Gas Transmission pipeline through the county (see Shale Daily, March 30, Dec. 19, 2014).

The CELDF helped organizers in all three counties draft the charter initiatives. In February, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that while state law preserves certain regulatory powers granted to local governments, it expressly prohibits them from exercising those powers in a way that discriminates against the state’s centralized regulatory authority over oil and gas development (see Shale Daily, Feb. 17).