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Viewpoint: No tolerance for eco-terrorism

By Craig Stevens

Over the past decade, the United States has made remarkable strides toward energy security. This progress — on the shoulders of oil and natural gas development — has elicited a fanatical backlash from environmental radicals. From violent protests to rogue vandalism of pipeline construction sites, reports of eco-terrorism have been abundant and grown, even in recent months.

In near unanimity these bad actors have pitched their destructive tactics as a necessary recourse against the alleged evils of "Big Oil." Often aided by a sympathetic media they have had some success in rousing public support. But let's be clear: Notwithstanding that these individuals are violating the law, it's hard to justify their anarchic methods — especially when juxtaposed against the benefits of oil and natural gas production being realized across the country.

Consider the Dakota Access Pipeline. Throughout its construction and even now as it is operational, the crude-oil line has been beset by vandalism. Violent protests required North Dakota to spend $22 million on law enforcement-related efforts, enough to fund the state's Treasury Department for over two decades. Nearly 600 arrests were made last fall and early this year, and once protesters dispersed North Dakotans were left with a $38 million cleanup tab and some 48 million pounds of trash and debris.

The senseless destruction and waste that punctuated demonstrations along the Dakota Access Pipeline contrast starkly with the immediate value the $3.8 billion project is delivering to local communities. In the first three months of its operation, the Dakota Access Pipeline has increased state tax revenues by $19 million. Experts anticipate the 1,172-mile pipeline will help generate $140 million in oil taxes every two-year budget cycle, and the line will alleviate reliance on other, less safe methods of transportation.

Sadly, vandalism of the Dakota Access Pipeline is not an isolated case; reports of individuals and groups sabotaging energy installations have becoming increasingly common. This month, for example, a jury in North Dakota convicted a Seattle man of trespassing and criminal mischief after he cut a fence and shut down the Keystone XL Pipeline. The man bragged that his actions disrupted the flow of oil equivalent to 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption. His defense? That somehow he was protecting the public against "pre-traumatic stress disorder."

It goes without saying that damaging pipelines increases the risk of serious accidents, putting the environment and communities in danger. That reality is not lost on those who carry out these acts. They would rather fulfill their preconceived notions about the evils of oil and gas, no matter the cost, than to come to the table to have an honest discussion. Their actions lay bare a radical environmental agenda, exposing the fallacy of their own message.

Nationwide, oil and gas production is writing a different story. Shale development has begun to reinvent the United States' energy outlook. For the first time in over 70 years the country is on track to become a net-energy exporter, reversing a long trend of growing dependence on foreign suppliers. Innovative new technologies have reduced carbon dioxide emissions to 30-year lows. These advances are making drilling and transportation safer and cleaner. Where eco-activists peddle the threat of climate change, oil and gas are giving policymakers the tools to find solutions on a global scale.

In states and regions once vexed by anemic economic growth traditional energy development is seeding new opportunity. This revitalization is apparent in places like Ohio, where oil and natural gas production generated over $43 million in property tax revenues alone in six counties between 2011 and 2015. More than $250 million of state tax dollars are expected to be created by oil and gas over the next decade. It's happening in states like Pennsylvania, where producers contributed more than $1.2 billion to the state's coffers between 2011 and 2016.

There are appropriate channels to consider and even debate America's energy infrastructure needs, and states and local officials deserve a lot of credit for working with industry to formulate policy that fosters investment and continued growth while protecting communities and the environment. These processes take years of planning and stewardship. And environmentalists should have a seat at the policy table, giving them the same platform as other stakeholders to provide input during infrastructure discussions.

But make no mistake, violence and vandalism is a violation of the law, no matter what banner it is flown under. There should be no tolerance for eco-terrorism. Investors in America's infrastructure and laborers are moving the country forward. Subversive actions that would undo that work unnecessarily harm our communities and run counter to the mission of protecting the environment.

Craig Stevens is the spokesperson for Grow America's Infrastructure Now, a national coalition focused on promoting key infrastructure investments.

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