Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002
Scarnati Bill Threatens
By Ryan Talbott
Since September 11, many of our elected officials
have been all too eager to chip away at the Constitution to push
their narrow political agendas. Pennsylvania State Senator Joe Scarnati
(R - 25th District) has joined the ranks of those who threaten our
liberties by introducing legislation that would punish those he
simply does not agree with.
In an attempt to criminalize legitimate public concern,
Sen. Scarnati has proposed a bill to equate those who engage in
actions that result in the loss of business with terrorism. For
instance, if someone protests the clearcutting of the Allegheny
National Forest and it results in a temporary work stoppage, the
protestor could be found guilty of 'environmental terrorism' and
have to pay restitution for the amount of money lost by the company.
Any rational individual can see the conflicts with
this bill and the First Amendment. Thankfully, two area papers did
as well. The editorial boards for the Warren Times-Observer
and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published scathing columns
about the complete lack of logic behind this legislation and the
obvious ties to September 11.
The Post-Gazette wrote: "In AmericaŐs
war against terror, some opportunists inevitably will try to take
advantage of public anxiety and target behavior they simply don't
likeÉConservatives and liberals alike ought to shudder at the naked
linkage of thought and behavior in this proposed legislation."
The Warren paper was even tougher: "Thankfully
our founders had a deeper appreciation for the value of freedom
and conflicting ideas in a democracy than Sen. Scarnati, whose proposed
legislation seems all too willing to pander at the expense of liberty
over conflicts which are part and parcel of the democracy enshrined
in our Constitution."
Unfortunately, our State Senate must not read these
papers or believe in a true democracy. On June 13, the senate passed
Sen. Scarnati's bill 36-14. It is now in the House Environmental
Resources and Energy Committee.
This is only the latest in a continuing agenda to
punish citizens for speaking out against corporate polluters and
demanding accountability from public agencies.
Last year, Sen. Scarnati attached a rider to the University
of PittburghŐs appropriations forbidding the Environmental Law Clinic
to use state funds. This is because the Director of the Law Clinic,
Tom Buchele, is representing the Allegheny Defense Project in a
current lawsuit in federal court over the East Side Project. It
is important to note, however, that Buchele is representing ADP
on his own time, apart from the Law Clinic. Additionally, the Law
Clinic is entirely supported through private funds, not state funding.
Sen. Scarnati's posturing is nothing short of hostile
discrimination. If he is really concerned with stopping eco-terrorism,
he needs to focus on the industries he is supporting. Weyerhauser's
Johnsonburg pulp mill has been cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency and the PA Department of Environmental Protection for repeated
clean air violations. Temple-InlandŐs fiberboard plant exploded
last year due to poor maintenance and resulted in the deaths of
three employees. Temple-Inland was minimally fined, despite being
found to be "willfully negligent." The Department of Environmental
Protection recently released a report documenting the degradation
of the Salmon Creek watershed due to Pennsylvania General Energy's
massive oil and gas development.
And then there's the Allegheny Hardwood Utilization
Group (AHUG) who sponsored an essay contest at a local high school
a few years ago with the winning essay about the killing of an environmentalist.
This student received an award from U.S. Representative John Peterson
and former State Senator Bill "Sludge" Slocum. Sen. Slocum,
as you may recall, was found guilty of willfully allowing millions
of gallons of sewage to flow into Brokenstraw Creek for over a decade.
Interestingly enough, Sen. Scarnati was silent through
the recent controversy involving the Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources in which the DCNR planned to auction 500,000
acres of state forest land to oil and gas corporations without an
environmental impact statement or public comment period. Apparently,
Sen. Scarnati has no problem with the use of state funds to finance
a "public" auction for oil and gas corporations while
excluding the public from participation.
Maybe Sen. Scarnati should read Article I, Section
7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states: "The people
have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of
the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.
Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property
of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee
of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain
them for the benefit of all the people."
Earlier this year, Scarnati renamed the legislation
the "eco-harassment" bill claiming the word "terrorism"
was too harsh. However, while the name of the bill has changed,
the intent of the bill has not. The change did allow him to garner
more support, and in July the Pennsylvania State Senate approved
the bill. The bill is now under consideration by the State House
What you can do: Pennsylvania citizens can contact
your State Representative and tell them to preserve citizens right
to dissent. Vote no on the Eco-terrorism bill.
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