In America, we have the right to disagree over personal beliefs – whether they are religious, philosophical or moral – and to express those beliefs peaceably. We have the right to assemble and to demonstrate. But, we do not have the right to destroy others’ property and to commit acts of violence in the name of free speech.
Those who engage in such acts should be punished to the full extent of the law. We need to support our law enforcement officials in their efforts to apprehend these criminals and bring them to justice.
However, in our quest to apprehend these criminals, I hope we are not headed down the path of infringing on the ability of legitimate advocacy organizations to express their opinions and to raise funds in order to do so. I do not want Americans to equate groups that advocate violence with mainstream environmental organizations.
We also need to put these violent acts into context. The FBI has indicated a downward trend in the number of crimes committed by these groups – approximately 60 in 2004. While I want these crimes stopped, I do not want people to think that the threat from these organizations is equivalent to other crimes faced by Americans every day. According to the FBI, there were over 7,400 hate crimes committed in 2003 – half of which racially motivated. More directly relevant to this committee, the FBI reports 450 pending environmental crimes cases involving worker endangerment or threats to public health or the environment.
So, while I appreciate the Chairman’s interest in these fringe groups, I urge the Committee to focus its attention on larger environmental threats, such as the dangerously high blood lead levels in hundreds of thousands of children. With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, I believe the Committee’s time would be better spent learning why EPA has not promulgated regulations to deal with lead paint in remodeled homes. Such an oversight hearing could have a significant impact on improving the lives of children all over the country.