Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) has cleverly taken a well-established principle in the retail business and applied it to protestors who corrupt the right to free speech: you break it, you bought it.
The Commonwealth Cost Reimbursement Act Legislation (SB 743), which Martin introduced with five other Senate Republicans, including Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), would allow the local police or a local or state government to petition the courts to require protestors to cover the damages, including the costs of arrests, they leave behind.
Sen. Martin is trying to prevent unwarranted escalation in his own backyard over construction of natural gas pipeline as part of the Atlantic Sunrise project, or any protests in any part of the state, from degenerating into the Dakota Access pipeline protests or the tragedy in Charlottesville.
“Some have gotten the sense that the right to free speech means the right to destroy property or become violent,” Sen. Martin said. “This legislation is intended to shine a spotlight on the activity that blurs that line between our First Amendment rights and criminal activity.”
He added that: “Of the 700 arrests during the Dakota protest nearly all of them were from out of state. They left behind $38 million in damage to property, including pollution. In the end in these cases, it’s the taxpayers who become the ultimate victims.”
“As Abraham Lincoln said, there is no grievance fit for redress by mob law,” said PMA President David N. Taylor. “The anti-pipeline anarchist saboteurs who trashed North Dakota are headed for Lancaster County, so we must prepare for the worst. Senator Martin’s bill is vital for protecting public safety and critical infrastructure, upholding the rule of law, and allowing projects already vetted by the public to move forward,” Taylor said. “If radical green militants cause trouble for first responders and law enforcement, local taxpayers should not get stuck paying the tab.”
Sen. Martin says it’s also important to note what the bill doesn’t do. It doesn’t erode free speech rights as has been charged in some opinion pages, and it’s not a gimmick so local police can load up on overtime. “You’re not going to have police piling on hours while they monitor a peaceful protest,” Sen. Martin said. “The bill would only come into play when there’s a conviction.”
As for publicly vetted projects, Atlantic Sunrise has been cleared by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), receiving two permits from DEP just last week. The Army Corps of Engineers gave its final go ahead last week, and Williams, the company financing and building the project, expects to receive a final go head from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week.
Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams, said construction activity should begin by the end of September on seven separate spreads (construction sites) from the pipeline in Lancaster to work on compressor stations in Wyoming and Columbia Counties. Gas should start flowing by the middle of next year, Stockton said.
The project will link approximately 200 miles of new line in northeast Pennsylvania to the decades-old Transco line that runs from the gulf coast of Texas to New York City. In addition, existing Transco facilities will be modified to allow gas to flow in two directions. Pennsylvania produces more natural gas than all of Canada, but lacks the necessary infrastructure to get this precious commodity to market.
Approval of this project will be another step toward unlocking the potential for historic economic growth in Pennsylvania. The down-the-line impact of the project will be the creation of high paying, sustainable jobs. A Penn State study predicts that Atlantic Sunrise will directly and indirectly support approximately 8,000 jobs in the 10 Pennsylvania counties during the project’s construction phase, resulting in an estimated $1.6 billion economic impact in the project area. Countless additional jobs will be created as businesses, especially manufacturers, expand their operations through access to this new, competitively priced natural gas supply.
Anyone masquerading as a protestor who tries to unlawfully prevent that economic growth would be held accountable under Sen. Martin’s legislation.