Full Title: Big-Money Courts Decide Fate of Local Fracking Rules
Author(s): Billy Corriher
Publisher(s): Center for American Progress
Publication Date: January 1, 2017
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Through campaign contributions and support for pre-emption laws, oil and gas interests are undermining communities’ right to limit or regulate industrial activities. Many local governments have responded to quick booms in fracking or the injection of fracking waste by enacting stricter regulations, bans, or moratoria. This report discusses how fracking companies and state governments have challenged many of these local bans, as well as how state supreme courts have upheld some of them. Other local bans, however, have been struck down by courts elected with money from fracking companies and other fossil fuel interests.
Most state constitutions outline the boundaries of local authority, and some give state legislators broad authority to restrict local authority. As the final interpreters of these constitutions, state supreme courts are responsible for determining what happens when state and local laws conflict. And the vast majority of state judges must survive re-election to stay on the bench.
This report argues that, in a growing number of states, the courts settling these state-local disputes are seeing more campaign cash from oil and gas companies, lawyers, or other special interests. Nonpartisan supreme court elections in states such as Wisconsin and North Carolina have seen more and more campaign spending in recent years. The Ohio Supreme Court has long been among the most expensive elected courts in America, and many of its justices were elected with large campaign contributions from oil and gas interests. Courts are hearing preemption disputes in Louisiana and West Virginia—two states where mining and drilling interests have wielded strong influence.