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State organizers renew push for ballot measure to give local control of industry

SALEM – Activists are again gathering signatures in support of an initiative to amend the Oregon Constitution to give communities more power to regulate industry.

Oregonians for Community Rights got the secretary of state’s go-ahead Sept. 23 to pursue the 1,000 signatures the group needs to get an administrative review of its proposed ballot initiative.

It’s the group’s second attempt to get the measure on the ballot. The group qualified a similar amendment initiative in the spring, but the Secretary of State determined in July that it did not clear certain requirements for broader petition circulation. The new ballot measure has been rewritten to comply with those requirements.

“Titled ‘The Right of Local Community Self-Government,’ the proposed amendment would codify into law the right of local community self-government. It would secure the authority of communities to put in place stronger rights protections than those recognized at the state, federal, or international level,” the group said in an announcement.

In reality, a state constitutional amendment wouldn’t let local ordinances trump federal or international law, Willamette University law professor Paul Diller told the (Salem) Capital Press in April, when the previous initiative was filed.

Cities and counties in nine states have passed about 200 such ordinances, aimed at banning projects such as wind farms, pipelines, fracking and the construction of big-box stores. Courts have overturned some of the local measures, but others remain in place.

Coquille activist Mary Geddry, a chief petitioner on the state ballot measure, is also a chief petitioner on a local measure, the “Coos County Right To A Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance.” Supporters of that measure, aimed at stopping the proposed Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline that would serve the proposed Jordan Cove LNG shipping terminal, need 1,521 signatures to get the measure on the May 2016 ballot. Geddry said Friday that the group has 1,700 signatures and aims to get 800-1,000 more before submitting them to the county clerk. Groups in Douglas County, also along the pipeline route, and Columbia County, site of a proposed pipeline to a proposed LNG plant in Warrenton, plan to place similar measures on their own ballots in May.

University of Oregon law professor Ofer Raban told The World in December 2014 that such ordinances couldn’t overturn federal permission for the pipeline.

Fossil fuels aren’t the only thing Oregon communities have sought to regulate. In Oregon, bans on GMO organisms in Jackson and Josephine counties were to take effect this summer, but both counties have delayed enforcing them pending the outcome of lawsuits by county farmers. The two counties’ ordinances were grandfathered in as exceptions to a 2013 state law prohibiting GMO bans. Local regulation of pesticides and other farming practices is prohibited by the state’s “right-to-farm” laws, initially passed in the 1960s to thwart efforts by environmental groups to use local nuisance laws to regulate farming.

In another bid for local rights, Coos County voters will get to vote in November on the United States Constitution Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, which would exempt the county from a state law that took effect Aug. 9 requiring criminal background checks before private gun sales.

“A growing number of communities in Oregon – let it be about Nestle taking a community’s water to oil and gas corporations piping unwanted LNG through Oregon to Monsanto controlling what food seed we can plant – are realizing that they are shut out of being able to protect the health and welfare of people and nature where they live,” said Eron King, board president of the Oregon Community Rights Network, in an announcement of the signature campaign. “Sustainability is illegal today because our communities cannot say no to the unsustainable corporate projects.”

In Colorado, the Colorado Community Rights Network filed paperwork for an initiative regarding a similar constitutional amendment in August. The group had run a similar initiative effort in 2014, but because of legal challenges by the state and the oil and gas industry, it ran out of time to qualify. They too are aiming for the November 2016 ballot.