OHIO SENATE BILL 250 DETERRING DEMOCRATIC PROTESTS BY MASSIVE CRIMINAL PENALTIES

Senate Bill (SB) 250 is a thinly veiled attempt by the fossil fuel lobbies in Ohio to deter citizen protests at new oil and gas facilities, especially pipelines.  It was introduced on February 28, 2018, by Republican State Senator Frank Hoagland whose Senate District 30 covers southeastern Ohio where the majority of the state’s fracking industry is concentrated.  It is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee and may be fast-tracked for passage yet this year during the brief “lame duck” session that follows the November 6 election.

This fossil fuel industry effort appears aimed at stifling pipeline protests similar to those at the Dakota Access pipeline that caused widespread sympathy toward its largely Native American opponents who feared water contamination from pipeline spills.  Three states in that pipeline’s path have introduced their own versions of the ALEC bill (North and South Dakota and Iowa).  The Dakota Access pipeline parent company is Energy Transfer Partners, which also owns the controversial Rover pipeline in Ohio that has contaminated many areas across the state during its construction and has generated widespread public resistance.

ALEC describes this bill as codifying “criminal penalties for a person convicted of willfully trespassing or entering property containing a critical infrastructure facility without permission by the owner of the property and holds a person liable for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing.”  However, that description is misleading because these acts have already been criminal in Ohio for a century or more.  What the bill actually does is add a definition for “critical infrastructure” to these long-standing crimes and then significantly raises the imprisonment and fines above current law if such critical infrastructure is in any way involved.   While industry proponents claim the bill addresses acts of terrorists, it does not amend Ohio laws defining terrorism[1] that already have high penalties.  Instead it addresses common trespass and property damage offenses that may occur at some public protests.

A second goal of the bill is to intimidate large environmental groups who support pipeline protests by subjecting them to criminal penalties for “complicity” with trespassing individuals and makes them liable for greatly increased fines that are ten times larger than the already increased fines for individuals.  Virtually all of the major national environmental groups were supportive of the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline and were instrumental in publicizing the protests.  This provision is clearly intended to keep them on the sidelines in the future for fear of being found guilty of felonies and facing large criminal fines.

SB 250 as introduced has received a great deal of criticism for how severe it sanctions activities that are protected by the First Amendment as proper acts of civil protest.In response, a “substitute” bill is being circulated at the Statehouse that has been drafted by the bill’s sponsors to mute that criticism.A substitute bill wholly replaces an earlier version with a single vote and can therefore be quickly adopted with far less discussion than a bill receiving individual amendments.  This new draft is a mixed bag of positive and negative changes but does not alter the bill’s overall intent to deter lawful protest. 

In short, while the initial bill’s most obvious excesses are scaled back in the substitute, the overall breadth of conduct criminalized is significantly increased and its ability to stifle lawful protest extended.  Both versions of SB 250 are terrible legislation that demonstrates how rash the fossil fuel industry and its legislative supporters have become in their eagerness to suppress constitutionally protected protest activities around their most indefensible facilities, even to the point of subjecting moral Americans to cruel physical confinement for grossly excessive periods of time.


 

Federal Leasing of Public Lands for Drilling Accelerating

According to a recent report in The New York Times, the Trump Administration is auctioning off millions of acres of public lands for drilling rights to oil and gas developers.

The price of oil has been rising from $26 bbl just a few years ago to almost $80 bbl in 2018.  In this, large energy companies like Chesapeake, Chevron, Shell and others see profits looming on the horizon if they can get the rights to drill in vast areas of public lands now under the control of the federal government.

In the fiscal year ending September 30, more than 12.8 million acres of federally controlled land were auctioned off for drilling.

Again, this points up the need not to be distracted by shiny objects.  Yes, the politics of personal destruction and fear and hate mongering, as now practiced, can certainly distract us.  But we must not be lured to look away from the actual policies and actions of the current federal administration.  When oil prices were lower, and when the previous administration was tightening up at least some environmental regulations, the trend was less and less drilling.  But now the trend is moving in the opposite direction.

The Times article also points out that the federal government is sharing its lease windfalls with several of the western states, thus winning over many of these state governments to press for even more leasing and drilling.  It’s apparently part of a strategy of enlisting as many forces as possible to dismantle environmental protections.

Once these lands are exploited for mineral extraction, we will be hard-pressed to ever be able to restore them.  This legacy to us from generations before us stands now at risk of not being passed on to future generations, to say nothing about the impacts on climate change and loss of biodiversity.

NGL Pipelines – Newest Health & Safety Threat

We are familiar with oil and natural gas pipelines.  There are several of these crossing Ohio, including the NEXUS and ROVER natural gas transmission lines that move natural gas from the shale fields of eastern Ohio to Michigan and then to export across the border with Canada.

What is not as familiar are NGL (Natural Gas Liquids) pipelines.  Natural Gas Liquids, like ethane, butane, pentane, propane, and isobutane are produced by some shale wells in Marcellus and Utica shales.  These products have their own long-distance transmission lines.  The Utopia line, running from Harrison County in Ohio to Windsor, Ontario is one of these NGL pipelines.  The proposed Falcon Pipeline, now in the permitting process, is another.  It would run from Harrison County, Ohio, through a small part of West Virginia, and into Washington County, Pennsylvania, crossing the Ohio River on the way.

According to a Canadian Study (Public Safety Risk Assessment of Natural Gas Liquids, Zelinsky & Springer, 1996) NGL compounds like ethane “have a high vapor pressure, and when accidentally released, may form a flammable dense gas cloud.  If the cloud is ignited, a flash fire or vapor cloud explosion may occur.”

Such an explosion of an ethane pipeline did occur in 2015 in Brooke County, West Virginia.  According to a report in the Wheeling Intelligencer, the resulting fire continued for some time.  Fortunately, no one was killed, but some families had to be evacuated.

But back to the Falcon Pipeline which would cross the Ohio River.  A rupture and leak of that line could add to contamination of the river.   Moreover, the Falcon Pipeline would be just part of a sprawling new petrochemical complex in the Ohio Valley that would extend from Pennsylvania all along the Ohio River to Huntington, West Virginia and into Kentucky.  This will be the rise of yet another “cancer alley.”

Is this the price of economic development---that the health and safety of our fellow citizens has to be sacrificed? And when all the gas and NGLs run out, what kind of a mess will be left behind? And who, if anyone will clean it up? If we want to know the answers to those questions, just look at the record of the coal mining industry in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania--- ruined land, ruined water, and a sickened and impoverished population.

What Appalachian Storage Hub Means for All of Us

by Ron Prosek

While researching pipelines and related infrastructure in northern Ohio for a presentation that I am to give at the next FaCT meeting on November 17 in Elmore, OH, I also delved a bit into plans for southern Ohio and West Virginia just across the Ohio River.

This is what the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition reports on these plans:

The Appalachian Storage Hub (ASH), also known as the Appalachian Ethane (or NGL) Storage Hub, is a proposed mega-infrastructure project which could greatly expand unconventional oil and gas drilling (fracking) in our state and region. If built, this petrochemical complex would include five or more cracker plants, and regulating stations. Various natural gas liquids would be stored in underground storage facilities and transported via up to 15 possible pipelines. The petrochemical complex would roughly follow the course of the Upper and Lower Ohio River Valleys. Currently, it is uncertain whether most of the infrastructure would be located on the Ohio side or the West Virginia side of the river. It would cost billions of dollars to construct.

 Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition https://ohvec.org/appalachian-storage-hub-petrochemical-complex/

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition https://ohvec.org/appalachian-storage-hub-petrochemical-complex/

Of course this raises many environmental and health concerns for all of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  For one, it would stimulate the expansion of shale fracking throughout these states.  It means more drill pads, condensate tanks, pipelines, compressor stations, cracker plants, petrochemical manufacturing, and frack waste injection wells.

These impending threats make our work with the Ohio Health Registry and Pennsylvania’s work with the SW PA Environmental Health Project more urgent than ever.  And it points up the need for even closer cooperation among volunteers from all three of these states.


Seven Years of FaCT — a story of growth and maturation

Faith  Communities  Together  for  a  Sustainable  Future  first  gathered  in  the  summer  of  2011. Starting  out  with  50  attendees  at  its  first meeting  at  East  Shore  Unitarian  Universalist  Church  in  Kirtland, Ohio, FaCT has grown to include participants from more than 40 churches and other religious communities  in 16 Ohio counties and  a  few  in  West  Virginia.

The  organization  includes  a  large  and  active  chapter  based  at  West  Shore Unitarian Universalist  Church  in  Rocky  River,  Ohio  as  well  as  two  affiliates FaCT-OV  - Fact  of  the  Ohio  Valley,  based at  the  Unitarian  Universalist  Church  of  the Ohio  Valley  and  FaCT-Athens  based  at OU  in  Athens. Most  FaCT  members  carry out  the  FaCT  mission  in  their  own churches  and  communities  through environmental  committees  or  “green teams.”

In  2015,  the  organization  became  more formalized,  incorporating  as  a  non-profit  in  the  State  of  Ohio,  adopting  Mission and Vision  Statements,  drafting  By-Laws,  and  electing  its  first  Board  of  Directors.    

In  December  2016,  FaCT  was  granted  501c3  tax-exempt  status  by  the  IRS,  allowing  for  tax-exempt  donations  to  the  organization.

In  2015,  FaCT  began  its  Ohio  Health  Registry  Project  under  the  leadership  of  Dr.  Debbie  Cowden of Loudenville.

FaCT usually has five statewide meetings each year at rotating locations, mainly in eastern Ohio, the area of the state most heavily impacted by oil and gas drilling, especially by fracking.

The FaCT Board of Directors meet several times a year between general statewide meetings. There is usually one in-person Board meeting per year, with the other Board meetings conducted by video conference.

Want to get involved with us? Email ohiohealthregistry@gmail.com — We would love to connect with you!

FaCT-Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future is incorporated in the State of Ohio as a non-profit organization and is classified by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3 tax exempt public charity. Under IRS rules, donations to FaCT are tax-deductible.

EPA Cuts Will Affect Ohio

The proposed cuts to the EPA by the Trump Administration will adversely affect Ohio and state-level EPAs all over the U.S.

The cuts will be both in federal personnel that support state environmental enforcement as well as money that goes directly to the states for such enforcement.

Our response should include visiting, phoning, and writing our senators and members of Congress to demand that they block these proposed cuts. 

If environmental enforcement is weakened as proposed, more children and adults will be sickened and will die.  Yes--be sickened and die.  Air, water, and soil pollution kill more Americans  every year than traffic accidents or gun violence or terrorism or just about anything else.  40,000 Americans die each year from air pollution alone.

We must all speak up now to stop outrageous cuts to EPA.  Even the most conservative politician has to realize that the most sacred duty of government is to protect the people, and EPA has a vital, indispensable role to play, a role that should not be diminished by reckless funding cuts.

Intersectionality and Fusion in Faith Communities’ Environmentalism

Folks working in social justice/environmental justice efforts have been hearing a couple of buzz words that have been coming into vogue recently—intersectionality and fusion (or fusion politics). As  people involved in an interfaith movement to protect the environment—God’s Creation— these terms and the concepts they represent are quite relevant and can help us to become more empowered and more effective.

The concept of intersectionality refers to the fact that all the multifarious social justice/environmental justice causes and issues are very much interrelated and impact each other.  

For example, the issues of environment and political empowerment are intertwined.   Big Oil and Gas and their frackers are often attracted to impoverished rural communities because folks there are desperate and relatively powerless. They need the money and will not usually raise objections against an industry that threatens their health and the health of their children as their own desperate economic situation compels them to sacrifice what they may perceive as long-term health for immediate survival.  It's a gamble they feel they must make--gambling that they and their children will not be hit immediately with the toxic effects of oil and gas development.

So if we are trying to protect an economically depressed area from being exploited by frackers, we are addressing both an environmental issue as well as the issue of political empowerment as we help the relatively powerless become empowered to stand up for their families and for their community.  And ultimately, this empowerment will carry on in the future extending to other challenges to thiese families and communities.

It can be more than two issues that intersect in this way, and often it is.  Upon analysis, some situations involve a myriad of issues.  So that is intersectionality.

The other concept is fusion or fusion politics.  I learned about this concept from Rev. William Barber II in his book The Third Reconstruction.  Rev. Barber, leader of the Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina, defines fusion politics as the joining together of many different kinds of people to form a morally-based movement to confront injustice of whatever kind.

One of Rev. Barber’s experiences as an organizer involved Blacks and Whites and rich and poor in a North Carolina community joining together to end the exposure of an impoverished neighborhood in this community to toxic wastes that had been stored and even dumped there.  The point was to get a lot of different skins in the game—to form a coalition that was both large and multifarious in many dimensions.  It worked. The exposures were ended.  The people’s health and the health of their children were redeemed.

Why did their movement find success?  Perhaps it was because the larger community began to see the poorer section of town as part of them—part of their town, their community.  It’s not about calling people out: “You’re wrong.  Your doing bad things!”  In stead, it’s about calling people in: “We’re in this together.   This is all our community, and we must take care of everyone.  Let’s clean up the toxic mess and not let it happen again anywhere in our community.”

In our environmental movement to bring folks together from many different religious backgrounds, we too can claim a collective moral grounding.  We have different traditions, but, as we have discovered, all our traditions teach us to care for God’s Creation.  We are to be stewards.  We are to be protectors of the Web of Life of which we are a part.

So far so good.  We have a good start on religious diversity in our movement.  But, when I look around, I notice that we can and should develop more diversity in other dimensions.  We tend to be mainly White and middle class and over 50.  So we need more people of color, people who may not be as economically as advantaged as we are, and we need many more young folks in our ranks.  (I’ll settle for anyone under 40 as my definition of young.)

We have a great foundation in that our movement, like Rev. Barber’s, is a moral movement informed for each of us by our spiritual and our religious traditions.  But we need more diversity in age, economic standing, and racial background.

One way, I think, that we can work toward more diversity is to better understand the intersectionality of our issue—protecting God’s Creation—with other social justice/environmental justice issues.  And actually, the most important aspect of this is to reach out and support folks that are organized around these other issues. Why not occasionally show up for an issue beyond our own?  For example, you might have participated in the Women’s March in Washington or elsewhere.  If you did, I bet you made some connections with some new friends, and I bet you shared with them some of the work you are doing on the environment.  Perhaps you will give your new friends a bit of a hand from time to time as they work on their issue, and likely they will do the same for you.

In my own experience, I recently visited a mosque with some other folks from my church to show solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters.    To my surprise, I ran into my sister’s sister-in-law.  “Esther,” I said, “What are you doing here?” meaning “how did you come to be here” since she is not a member of my church.  She explained that she had been to the Women’s March in Washington and had networked with some people from Northeast Ohio, and together they decided to visit this mosque as an act of solidarity with Muslims.  So her involvement in one cause—women’s rights—led her to an action on religious freedom.

I recently have participated in my local Move to Amend Group (to overturn Citizens United and to reduce the power of money in politics), and I have been involved in some SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) activities in support of Black Lives Matter.  I have met some new people, and I have begun to share with them my work on environmental justice.  This doesn’t mean I am dividing my time evenly among various groups.  I am still focused on our inter-faith environmental mission.  But I am taking some time to show up for other people’s causes.  I am backing them up when I can and hoping that some of them will show up for some of what I am focused on.

My minister keeps emphasizing to me the importance of showing up—just showing up and being fully present when you are there.  It reminds me of what Woody Allen said: “Showing up is 80 percent of life” (Annie Hall).  Makes sense. We are social animals, and we are powered by love—the love of a supportive community, so if you believe in intersectionality and in fusion politics—building more and more beloved communities everywhere to take up causes which protect and defend people and the environment—these communities can and will achieve amazing things.

-Ron Prosek

Toward A New Green Energy Paradigm

You may not have heard this before, but we have the technology RIGHT NOW to build a whole new green energy paradigm.  Solar photovoltaic cells are becoming much more efficient, so efficient they can even be used here in Northeast Ohio on overcast days, as even ambient light now is enough for them to generate electric power.

According to an article in The New York Times published in November 2014: “The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.”

And likewise, storage capacity technology is advancing steadily.

Other nations have already embarked on the kind of path we can also take.  Germany, with its program of Energiewende, has moved so far along that on some days the entire electric energy requirements for that country are met by renewable energy resources alone.

For the United States there is now a plan, developed by Dr. Mark Jacobson and his colleagues at Stanford University and at other universities, that would see 100% of all our energy needs in the U.S. met by wind, water, and sun sources by the year 2050 and 80% by wind, water, and sun by 2030.  2030 is only 13 years from now, and an 80% reduction in the use of fossil fuels would have a profoundly beneficial effect on the environment, and consequently on the quality of life of everyone.

This plan is called the Solutions Project.  You can go to the website thesolutionsproject.org, and there you will find a plan for each of the 50 states.  It gives a breakdown of the types of sources that can be used, how much land would be needed, how many lasting jobs would be generated, and many other details.  For example, Ohio will use mainly wind and photovoltaic cells in various arrangements to meet its goal.  

Do you think Big Oil and Gas will resist such a plan?  You bet they will.  That is the main problem.  The power of these corporations is being used to block our path to a new energy paradigm.  We must not let them continue to do this.  Corporate power in general has run amok, and it must be reined in.  This means citizen education, involvement, and action.  As FaCT member Rev. Monica Beasley-Martin has said, “No one can do it all, but everyone can do his or her part.”

So now I am working out of a spiritual passion not just to oppose the pollution caused by fossil fuels but also to help usher in an energy future which is just to the web of life and just to earth’s people.  

So let’s start taking greater care.  Let’s work to make sure the democratic process is restored in this country so that all people are accorded justice and corporations are put in their proper place, so that people come before profits, and so that we can move forward to a green energy future with ample clean energy, food, work, health, education, and dignity for all.

If you are interested in joining in this work with our inter-faith movement, I invite you to visit our website for FaCT - Faith Communities Together for A Sustainable Future at factohio.org., and I invite you to attend our next statewide meeting, which will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown on March 18, 2017 at Noon.  The church is located at 1105 Elm Street in Youngstown.

-Ron Prosek, President
FaCT-Faith Communities Together for a Sustainable Future