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Fracking Democracy

By       Message Greg Coleridge     Permalink
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Industrial horizontal drilling with massive slick water hydraulic fracturing (known as "fracking") poses tremendous risks to our communities.

The plan to force toxic chemical-laced water at incredibly high pressure through shafts to fracture bedrock hundreds of feet below the ground of our communities to release natural gas threatens human health as well as our water, land and air.

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But the threats are more than physical and environmental. They're political.

Industrial drilling for natural gas is fracturing the very bedrock of what's left of our democracy at the local level based on current laws.

Out-of-state gas drilling corporations lobbied the Ohio legislature in 2004 for ripping control from local communities in regulating and prohibiting gas drilling. The result was passage of HB 278. Support for this measure to place regulation under the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) came ironically from many legislators who in general are skeptical of big "bureaucracies" and government control over communities and corporations in favor of "local control."

Not in this instance.

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Sadly, such maneuvers are typical of corporations who fear communities exercising their democratic, self-governing muscles. Gas drilling corporations don't want to justify industrial drilling in a housing development or in a community before a local zoning board in the presence of angry community residents. Not many zoning boards pressured by an informed and active citizenry would decide to permit industrial drilling in an area zoned exclusively for housing

The alternative for gas drilling corporations was to run to the state, and push for a bill preempting local zoning laws -- promoted often in the name of "modernizing" or "harmonizing" antiquated local laws.  VoilÃ, no more worries about pesky and arcane local control issues.

Gas drilling corporations escaping democratic controls is not a new corporate phenomenon.

US-based corporations have spent 150 years in this country working to escape any and all forms of public definition and control.  They have sought to gain "liberty" and "freedom" from We the People in many ways.

During the early period of US history, many state laws and constitutions controlled corporations through awarding, conditioning and revoking charters. Corporate charters were privileges, not rights. They granted corporations the privilege to exist for specific purposes and limited time-periods. Profits were limited. Liabilities of stockholders, owners or managers were in some cases limited. Corporations were often prohibited from all types of direct or indirect political influence.

Following the Civil War, many corporations amassed great wealth (which corporations do following all wars). They sought to translate their new economic power into greater political power. They still do so today.

Three historic strategies corporations have used to escape democratic controls are:

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-    From a "lower" level of government to a "higher" level -- usually from the state level to the federal level. It's more difficult for ordinary citizens to wield influence the further removed legislators are from local communities. There are also usually many fewer in number federal or state legislators to politically influence than the aggregate number at the state or local level.

-    From legislatures to "regulatory agencies." Agencies like the ODNR provide a convenient shield between, on the one hand, the public and accountable legislators and, on the other hand, corporations -- a political sinkhole where activist energy, time and resources often end up. Regulatory agencies can be stacked with corporate friendly appointees (the new head of ODNR, for example, is a drilling guy). Regulatory agencies, by definition, regulate activities, as opposed to prohibit them -- ensuring that the activity or process occurs in some form. And even if regulatory agencies decide against a corporate action, corporations can always escape this arena and run to the courts, which lead to the next form of escaping.

-    From legislatures to courts. It was much easier to stack a few courts with corporate-friendly judges or bribe a few judges (who at the federal level aren't even elected but appointed for life) than to try to influence an entire group of legislators.

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I'm the Director of the Economic Justice & Empowerment Program of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker social action organization; coordinator of Ohio Move to Amend; and a member of the Program on Corporations, Law & (more...)
 

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