Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Autumn 2002


Scarnati Bill Threatens Civil Liberties

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 of Representatives.

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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