A new wave of bills being introduced in states such as Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota aim to criminalize the process of planning a protest against the construction of an oil or gas pipeline. If signed into law, the act of simply planning a protest that might break a law (such as trespassing or other forms of civil disobedience) would become illegal. Legal observers note that – wait for it – the three states that introduced these broadly defined anti-protest bills are also home to controversial proposed pipeline projects.
While other states have introduced and passed similar anti-protest bills, such as those aimed at protests that block highways or involve trespassing on property that contains energy infrastructure, these new group of bills seem to take the targeting of protesters a step further. “I think these bills represent an escalation,” Alice Cherry, co-founder and staff attorney of the Climate Defense Project, told ThinkProgress. “The main motivation for these bills seems to be to deter would-be protesters and to make potential jail sentences and fines more draconian.”
Activists view these bills as responses to the high-profile actions at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which brought thousands to encamp and protest against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Though the Pipeline is now operating thanks to an expedited review process under the Trump Administration, several pipeline projects in other states are facing a fierce backlash. The bill now being debated in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Minnesota was crafted by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group funded by pro-fossil fuels interests that creates and delivers legislative language to state lawmakers around the country to advance their agenda. The motive behind this move to place a legal spotlight on pipeline protests is evident to those in opposition. “These offenses are already criminalized in every state,” Elly Page, a legal advisor for the International Center for Not for-Profit Law, told ThinkProgress. “In a lot of cases, [lawmakers] will have amended the definition for critical infrastructure just to add the word pipeline. It’s making clear what the impetus for these bills is.”
Via Think Progress