As duly approved and permitted energy infrastructure projects proceed in Louisiana and Virginia, we regrettably see some opponents creating situations that threaten the safety of construction crews, law enforcement, members of the public and even the opponents themselves.
For the safety of everyone involved, civil authorities need to take all necessary steps to prevent illegal actions directed against these projects and punish saboteurs who succeed in their misguided attempts to stop construction.
In echoes of illegal activities conducted against other pipeline projects in the last few years, protests against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, the Mountain Valley Pipeline in West Virginia, and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Virginia have shifted into lawbreaking already.
In late February, Bayou Bridge protesters were arrested for criminal trespass, remaining on property after being asked to leave and resisting arrest. In March, opponents vandalized pipeline equipment. They cut hydraulic hoses and electrical lines and spray painted backhoes and bulldozers, according to the sheriff’s office. Damage is estimated at a minimum of $50,000.
Meanwhile, police broke up a protest and arrested one protester on federal charges in West Virginia in March. In Virginia, police arrested 19 during an anti-pipeline protest last year, and The Washington Post reported in late March that “a battle is brewing” over the pipeline there. Virginia State Police have “undergone special training to deal with protests.”
The lawbreaking is already imposing costs on taxpayers and jeopardizing the safety of construction crews, law enforcement and the protesters. There is no question that cutting electrical and hydraulic lines are dangerous acts of sabotage that put people at risk of serious injury or worse.
Resisting arrest and clashing with law enforcement might sound romantic to some extremists, but they put police officers and sheriffs deputies as well as the protesters themselves in danger.
Intentionally escalating tempers and tensions just to make a political point is irresponsible. It increases the odds of injury in the moment and also sets a tone for future interactions between police and protesters. There is a ratcheting effect that can lead to terrible consequences very quickly.
Everyone has a right to protest, and pipeline opponents are free to make their voices heard, loudly if they like. They can picket and shout and march all they want, and no one will stop them.
What they can’t do is cross the line from protest to trespass, vandalism, or sabotage. Unfortunately, we are seeing all three of these illegal tactics already, and these pipeline projects are still in their early stages.
Aside from endangering lots of innocent people, turning to violence creates other problems too.
It creates long delays for projects that have followed the letter of the law in development, receiving all the proper federal, state, and local approvals and permits before beginning construction. Environmentalists might see this as a positive, but these delays do more than cost the companies money. They burden taxpayers with additional law enforcement and court costs, prolong disruptions to local communities, delay economic benefits that these projects bring and tarnish the reputations of environmental organizations.
The words “environmental protester” did not always make people think of extremists who vandalize property. In the United States, there is a perfectly honorable tradition of protesting peacefully for environmental causes. When a fringe group of activists crosses the line into criminal activity, it hurts the cause. People start to think of “environmental protester” not as someone who tries to educate the public, but as someone who commits crimes to advance an extreme agenda.
If these acts of vandalism and sabotage ultimately succeed, environmentalists still don’t win. Pipelines are the safest way of delivering energy resources. If they are stopped, the oil and gas will still reach end markets. But instead of being transported safely underground, they will be carried by train, truck, or barge, which pose more of a risk to both the environment and the public.
Environmental concerns absolutely should be a part of any conversation about energy infrastructure. Pipeline projects ought to be sited and constructed safely and with due consideration of their impact on the environment. Activists can be an important part of that conversation.
But crossing the line into illegal activity cannot be tolerated. It puts too many people at risk and creates more problems — for everyone — than it solves. Protesters should put down the bolt cutters and find better ways to make their case to the public.
Craig Stevens is the spokesman for Grow America’s Infrastructure Now, a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments. Follow the Coalition on Twitter @GAINNowAmerica.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.