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· May 26, 2011

Who’s Profiting from our Parks?

Yesterday the Ohio House voted on HB 133 to permit drilling in state parks and on other state owned lands. The bill passed 54-41, essentially jeopardizing the future of our parks and breaking a half-century commitment to protecting Ohio’s parks from such industrial development that has existed since Ohio established its state park system in 1949. Despite an outpouring of opposition to the bill and a number of outstanding questions still unanswered, lawmakers decided to join forces with oil and gas companies, giving this industry unprecedented access to the last untouched lands in Ohio. This bill could result in the oil and gas industry making decisions to benefit themselves, with little concern for the environment and local communities. Innovation Ohio encourages lawmakers and Ohioans to consider the following questions during this important public policy debate: How will lawmakers ensure that special interests don’t control decisions to drill in parks? The legislation contemplates a commission comprised of the Chief of the Division of Geological Survey in the Department of Natural Resources and the following four members appointed by the Governor: two members representing the oil and gas industry, one member of the public with expertise in finance or real estate; and one member representing a statewide environmental or conservation organization. These members are unelected and ultimately not accountable to the public. How can we ensure that a board with this make-up does not favor the interests of big gas and big oil at the expense of Ohioans?  And how will local communities, concerned about the impact of the development, ensure that their voices are heard, especially since they are denied an opportunity to appeal when their local park is opened to drilling? How exactly will the state benefit from opening up our parks? Will the state have to pay back federal funds on state land where drilling is permitted? Currently no one, not even supporters of the bill, can quantify the financial benefit the state will see from opening up our parks. And, if federal recreation dollars were used to purchase state properties, there is a requirement that the land be used for recreation in perpetuity. If drilling were to occur on these properties the agency would need to pay the federal funds back or replace the property. So where does that leave us in the end? How will this impact the popularity of the parks? The biennial budget anticipates 44% of the operating funds for state parks being generated from visitors to the parks.  It is unclear how drilling in the parks will impact the number of visitors which can potentially put operating funds in jeopardy. Will people stay away form parks that are dotted with oil and gas wells?

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