When the ability to dissent is taken away

When the ability to dissent is taken away

Last Friday a neighbor and I were walking along Tappan Lake and realized trees were being cut down all along Eslick Road and in other places on U.S. Army Corps property. This wasn’t just a few trees, an entire slope along the road had basically been clear-cut.

A closer inspection revealed more than 100 trees had been cut and at least 70 more were marked for cutting. The majestic white pines that once lined the roadway were gone, leaving a mass of stumps behind.

When the contractor was questioned about why these beautiful trees were being cut, his answer was “it looks better.”

We were not satisfied with this answer and contacted the main office of the U.S. Army Corps in Dover. We were told the contract was to remove 24 white pine because they were “close to power lines, they could fall on cars or buildings, and they presented a security issue.”

We have taken numerous photos and looked at the location of the trees. They did not threaten power lines. AEP has recently been on our street, and they cut or trimmed trees, which they deemed were an issue with power lines. They left these trees alone.

We have lived at the lake for more than 20 years, and a tree has never hit a building or a car. We, along with many of our neighbors, are quite upset that thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money was being used to destroy perfectly healthy trees, especially at a time when we need mature trees more than ever.

This money could have been used on other needed projects like shoreline erosion, fishing access, trails or upgrading 85-year-old equipment. As taxpaying citizens, we feel it was our right to dissent to this seemingly needless destruction.

Citizens often dissent by using peaceful protests to try to call attention to injustices when they feel their property or their rights have been violated in some way. Sadly, a recently adopted piece of Ohio legislation, SB 33, will now make it harder for frontline communities to dissent against oil and gas infrastructure.

This bill dramatically increases the “penalties for nonviolent protest at fracking sites, oil and gas pipelines, petrochemical plants, and other critical infrastructure” sites. It also makes nonprofits and organizations and congregations liable for punishment if they show any support to protesters charged. This is “a direct threat to basic rights of freedom of speech and assembly.”

There is already legislation in Ohio to address trespass, but this bill will increase the penalties from up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Additionally, the bill’s definition of “critical infrastructure” is broad and includes oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications and other locations.

One could argue nailing a garage sale notice to a telephone pole is harming “critical infrastructure” and would result in a $1,000 fine. There also is no clear definition of “improper tampering” in the bill. This is an offense that could result in a decade in prison and unquestionably needs to be defined in the bill.

So where and how did such a bill, one that robs citizens of freedom of speech, come about? Over 40 states have introduced similar bills in the past four years. Ohio would be the 14th state to pass the measure into law, joining states like Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia.

The bill was designed by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. It is no coincidence that more than one-third of Ohio’s legislators are members of ALEC.

One of these members includes Frank Hoagland, a Republican who sponsored the bill. He represents an area that is being heavily fracked, Ohio District 30. This district contains the counties of Harrison, Jefferson, Belmont, Monroe and Carroll, which are all located in the proposed area of the petrochemical buildout and plastics-making cracker plant.

According to the Huffington Post, he also owns “two consultancies that provide private security services to oil and gas companies.” Isn’t this a conflict of interest?

The influence of ALEC in Ohio is omnipotent. According to Polluter Watch, 11 of the 13 state Senate committees are chaired by ALEC members. Three of the top-four state Senate GOP leaders are ALEC members, Larry Obhof, Bob Peterson and Matt Huffman.

“Altogether, 41 of the state’s 85 GOP legislative members also are ALEC members. The GOP also has received thousands of dollars in donations from companies who are members of ALEC. These include Marathon Petroleum, Duke Energy and Exelon.

Gov. DeWine had the chance to veto this bill, but the governor who claims to be pro-kids has ignored the kids who live in these frontline communities and are exposed to toxic air and water emissions.

This bill does exactly what it is intended to do: It takes one more tool away from frontline community members who are fighting for their lives against huge corporations with endless money and political influence.

Many counties in Western Pennsylvania, South East Ohio or West Virginia are facing continued health threats and loss of property from oil and gas development. Two families in Western Pennsylvania lost acres of sugar maple trees when their property was seized via eminent domain to construct the Constitution Pipeline.

They still have not received any financial restitution for this loss and have started a GoFundMe account to help pay for legal costs. Protests like those against the Nexxus pipeline in Ohio could result in serious legal costs due to SB 33.

These frontline communities experience the worst impacts from extractive industries that use their resources and leave them with a toxic legacy. They often find the same state and federal agencies that are responsible for protecting human health and the environment have become puppets that dance for the multi-national corporations.

In addition, regulations that were meant to protect air and water have been rewritten by the industries and their lobbyists. The previous federal administration either weakened or threw out over 100 different environmental regulations. Ohio’s HB 6 proves the tentacles of the energy industry have reached into our lives to stall renewable energy and protect dirty fuels.

Ironically, the same organization that wants to silence dissent against the dangers of oil and gas development was at the Capital Building during the violent insurrection on Jan. 6. A recent report by Polluter Watch said many ALEC politicians took part in a massive disinformation campaign around alleged voter fraud, which helped fuel the uprising.

The report also said, “At least four current or recent members of ALEC who are also state legislators traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the rally that ended with a march to the Capitol and a deadly insurrection.”

Until we can reverse Citizens United and end the influence of lobby groups, I fear our country will remain an oligarchy controlled by the fossil fuel industry. Our democracy will not perish from a lack of guns to defend it but from a lack of dissent directed at the corporations who control our lives.


We had a meeting with the Dover Office of U.S. Corps and they seemed as surprised as we were as to the amount and location of the trees cut.

They told us no further cutting would be done until they had a meeting with dam safety and other folks to get at the bottom of this.

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