COLUMBUS, OH — In a joint letter delivered on Friday to members of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, 19 organizations urged officials to investigate and rectify the alleged fake public comments submitted by fossil fuel interests without the knowing consent of Ohioans, as uncovered by a Cleveland.com/Plain Dealer investigation on September 10.
The letter, sent in advance of the September 18 Oil and Gas Land Management Commission meeting, specifically asks officials to delay (or deny) all leasing nominations until the present matter is resolved, revise the public comment process to safeguard Ohioans’ identities, and take appropriate action toward any entity involved in the deceptive use of Ohioans’ personal information, among a number of other requests.
The organizations listed below represent a variety of issue areas and thousands of constituents from across Ohio. In representing those constituencies, the organizations request that as actions are taken to rectify these problems, all officials act transparently, update Ohioans on the progress of the investigation and solicit feedback from them as they work to improve public commenting procedures.
Organized by Save Ohio Parks and the Ohio Environmental Council, the memo can be viewed in its entirety here, with the following organizations signing in support:
Solar United Neighbors
Ohio Consumers Power Alliance
Athens County’s Future Action Network
Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action
Third Act Ohio
Ohio Valley Allies
Ohio Citizen Action
Sierra Club Ohio
NEO Climate Reality Project
Moms Clean Air Force in Ohio
FreshWater Accountability Project
The Nature Conservancy
Buckeye Environmental Network
Action for the Climate Emergency
Black Environmental Leaders Action Fund
Save Ohio Parks
Ohio Environmental Council
The following quote can be attributed, in whole or in part, to Cathy Cowan Becker, a Save Ohio Parks steering committee member:
“This summer, Save Ohio Parks noticed anomalies with two sets of form-letter comments that supported fracking in our state parks, wildlife areas, and public lands.
In one set of comments, 1,100 letters were submitted in five batches, with hundreds of letters in each batch showing a timestamp of a single minute. The information for Ohioans whose names were on those letters included phone numbers, so a dozen Save Ohio Parks volunteers called 735 of those numbers. We reached 115 people, and of those 98 told our volunteers they did not submit the letter. Two said they did, and the rest were noncommittal.
We attempted to work within the system. We brought this information to the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, which declined at the time to take any action. Since publication of Jake Zuckerman’s story in Cleveland.com, we are happy to see the commission now revamping their public commenting process. We are also happy to see Ohio Attorney General David Yost taking this seriously enough to open an investigation.
At Monday’s meeting of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, we urge commissioners to either delay any decisions on the active lease nominations to frack Salt Fork State Park, Wolf Run State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area until the attorney general’s investigation is complete — or to deny all fracking lease nominations.
These apparently fraudulent letters have no place in any decisions that would irrevocably alter our beloved state parks, wildlife areas and public lands.”
The following quote can be attributed, in whole or in part, to Molly Jo Stanley, Southeast Ohio Regional Director for the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC):
“Unlike the names of the fossil fuel companies that wish to frack Ohio’s state parks for profit, the names and addresses of Ohioans who submit comments are public records available on ODNR’s website for anyone to view. Fossil fuel interests exploited Ohioans by preying upon their identities for their own financial gain, resulting in numerous residents’ personal information — including a minor — being exposed online without their consent.
We’re appreciative of the initial steps taken by the Ohio Attorney General and ODNR, and our letter calls on the Ohio Attorney General, ODNR and the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission to take all necessary action to protect the identities of Ohioans while facilitating a transparent public comment process. Specifically, we’re asking state agencies to protect the public comment process, to fully investigate improper tampering with that process and to base their decisions on true, accurate information.
All of these injustices — the costs to human and environmental health, the costs to families left vulnerable from having their personal information unknowingly exposed, and the costs of numerous agencies and organizations investigating this alleged misconduct — are expenses billed to Ohioans by the exploitative fossil fuel industry. State leaders should be fostering a process where the people of Ohio and the environment we live in are the priorities, not the profits of fossil fuel interests.”
Save Ohio Parks is a statewide, all-volunteer organization concerned about fracking in, under or near our state parks, forests, wildlife areas and other public lands. Members believe that since the people of Ohio pay for and use our public lands, we deserve a say over what happens to them. Save Ohio Parks is a subsidiary of People Protecting Ohio Public Lands, LLC.
The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) is the state’s most comprehensive and effective environmental advocate for a healthier, more sustainable Ohio. The OEC develops and ensures the implementation of forward-thinking, science-based, pragmatic solutions to secure healthy air, land, and water for all who call Ohio home.