Ohio Citizen Action
Based in Cleveland, Ohio Citizen Action recruits members and conducts issue campaigns with door-to-door canvass staffs and organizers in Cleveland and Cincinnati, and a telephone canvass staff in Cleveland. Rachael Belz of Cincinnati is its Interim Executive Director. The President of the Ohio Citizen Action Board of Directors is Dr. Anne Wise of Cleveland. The President of the organization's research and education affiliate, Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund, is Dr. Richard Wittberg of Marietta.
The organization was founded in 1975 as the Ohio Public Interest Campaign, a coalition of unions, churches, and community organizations, working to pass legislation to protect employees and communities from the damage done by plant closings. The coalition proposed state legislation to require advance notice to employees before a closing (1977). The Ohio legislature balked, so U.S. Senator Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) sponsored it as a federal bill. It became federal law in 1988.
Economic hardship also produced a fiscal crisis for the City of Cleveland, which began selling off its assets: the port (1969), Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (1972), Cleveland Municipal Stadium (1974), and the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (1975). In 1976, Mayor Ralph Perk proposed the next sale, the Municipal Power System (Muny Light, now Cleveland Public Power), and began granting multi-million dollar tax abatements to downtown developers. The Ohio Public Interest Campaign joined with neighborhood groups associated with the Commission on Catholic Community Action and the United Auto Workers union to oppose tax abatements and the sale of Muny Light. These two issues triggered an electoral revolt, dubbed the "Tuesday Night Massacre" (1977). Mayor Perk and one-third of City Council lost their jobs. The new mayoral administration of Dennis Kucinich sided with the citizens coalition, setting the stage for a showdown with the city's major banks and the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. (now FirstEnergy). Amid the political battle, Clevelanders voted to keep Muny Light (1979), and tax abatements were suspended for a decade.
In 1983, the Ohio Public Interest Campaign won a federal anti-trust suit against three northeast Ohio grocery chains -- Fisher Foods, Inc., First National Supermakerts, Inc.(Finast), and Stop N Shop -- for price-fixing, resulting in $20 million going to a million Cleveland, Akron and Lorain-area households, then the largest private consumer anti-trust settlement in U.S. history. The organization was also involved with issues including community reinvestment, natural gas prices, nuclear power plant construction, health insurance, and victims rights.
Toxic Chemical Right-To-Know and Good Neighbor Campaigns
The organization has increasingly focused on environmental health issues, including landfills, hazardous waste dumps, groundwater and wellfield protection, incinerators, pesticides, and especially, industrial pollution.
In 1980, Ohio Citizen Action, working with allies in neighborhoods, firefighters, and labor unions, began a contentious two-year campaign that passed a strong Cincinnati toxic chemical right-to-know ordinance over the opposition of Procter & Gamble and the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. The Cincinnati ordinance became the model for laws the organization was able to pass in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Kent, Lancaster, Norwood, Oregon, and Toledo.
Then, in December 1984, a catastrophic accident took place at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. Tens of thousands of people were killed, blinded or maimed for life by their exposure to methyl isocyanate gas. People in the United States began asking - Could this happen here? Do we have methyl isocyanate at plants in the United States? What about all the other chemical accidents that could take place? What could we do to prevent them? Members of Congress had heard about the right to know laws that had been passed in Ohio, Philadelphia, and New Jersey, and thought that those laws could be extended to the rest of the country. The Congressional committee drafting the federal right-to-know proposal used Ohio’s local ordinances and experiences as a model to draft their proposal, including a requirement that local firefighters receive lists of the chemicals being stored at facilities in their communities. In the fall of 1985, Ohio Citizen Action and other groups across the country delivered more than a million petition signatures urging Congress to pass a strong bill. The measure passed by a one vote margin, and included an important new component, the requirement that industries report the chemicals being used and stored at their facilities, and their emissions into the air, land, and water. That was the birth, in 1986, of the Toxics Release Inventory.
Since then, Ohio Citizen Action has used the Toxic Release Inventory as the basis for “good neighbor campaigns” with polluting companies. These campaigns combine community organizing, regional canvassing, direct negotiations with the company, and other techniques to cause major polluters to prevent pollution, according to former Executive Director Sandy Buchanan, “far beyond what federal or state regulations would require.”
So far, such campaigns have involved AK Steel, Middletown; Brush Wellman, Elmore; Columbus Steel Drum, Gahanna; DuPont, Washington, WV; Envirosafe Landfill, Oregon; Eramet, Marietta; FirstEnergy, Northern Ohio; General Environmental Management, Cleveland; Georgia-Pacific, Columbus; Lanxess Plastics, Addyston; Mittal Steel, Cleveland; Perma-Fix, Dayton; PMC Specialties, Cincinnati; River Valley Schools, Marion; Rohm and Haas, Reading; Shelly Asphalt, Westerville; Stark County landfills; Sunoco Refinery, Oregon; Universal Purifying Technologies, Columbus; U.S. Coking Group, Oregon; Valleycrest Landfill, Dayton; and Waste Technologies Industries hazardous waste incinerator, East Liverpool.
Ohio Citizen Action has published a Good Neighbor Campaign Handbook (Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2006), describing how such campaigns are organized.
Coal and natural gas
Beginning in 2007, the organization took on the issue of coal plant pollution, with campaigns to end mountaintop removal coal mining, block a new AMP-Ohio coal plant in Meigs County and a Baard Energy coal refinery in Columbiana County, to press FirstEnergy, AEP, and Duke Energy to retire outdated coal plants statewide, to reform federal coal ash laws, and to uncover the financial and environmental risks to municipalities and ratepayers from the Prairie State coal plant in Marissa, Illinois. In 2012, the group began campaigning against the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) by Chesapeake Energy and other oil and gas drilling companies.
According to the organization, the following are the highlights of its work in 2012:
- FirstEnergy announced in January that they would close all four of their outdated, highly polluting coal plants on Lake Erie. This announcement, closely followed by GenOn’s announcement that they would close plants in Avon Lake and Niles, were the result of decades of citizens’ campaigns to enforce the Clean Air Act.
- Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s plans to build a garbage incinerator on the west side of the city ground to a halt after hundreds of Clevelanders wrote to the mayor, attended public hearings and council meetings and exposed the serious financial and environmental flaws in the proposal.
- Cincinnati became the largest city in the nation to contract for 100% clean, renewable energy in May, a result of our campaign to use the power of community buying groups for electricity.
- The U.S. EPA’s rules governing toxic mercury releases from coal plants survived an industry-led attack in the Senate in June. Ohio Citizen Action members had sent 10,000 letters to Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman urging them to defend against the attacks on the Clean Air Act.
- The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ohio Citizen Action’s First Amendment rights in February 2012. This decision ended a seven-year legal case versus the City of Englewood, which had enacted unconstitutional restrictions on door-to-door canvassing.
- We supported successful campaigns by citizens in Broadview Heights and Mansfield to pass ballot initiatives in November 2012 restricting drilling and injection of fracking fluids in their communities.
- Pressed by Citizen Action, Attorney General Mike DeWine opened an investigation of Chesapeake Energy, including investments in the company by Ohio Pension Funds.
- Patriot Coal announced it would stop mountaintop removal coal mining, a landmark decision in the work by citizens in Appalachia, Ohio Citizen Action, and many others to stop the heinous practice.
- The Ohio Supreme Court blocked the expanding of the Rumpke landfill in Colerain Township, upholding the position of township trustees and the neighbors of the landfill.
- We introduced a new program for using cell phones to track pollution, and a new “ActionGram” App for people to use to send photo messages to their legislators.
- We presented the Ohio Citizen Action Howard M. Metzenbaum Award to Staughton and Alice Lynd of Niles, Ohio, who have devoted their lives to working for peace, civil rights, and economic and environmental justice.
- Global warming
- Earth Science
- Natural environment
- Conservation Movement