Anti-fossil fuel activists and pipeline protesters are dismayed as the penalties for obstructing lawful commerce are getting serious in the case of energy infrastructure. The story of developments in several US states is reported in the pro-protester website truthout Under Louisiana Bill, Peaceful Protesters Could Face 20 Years in Prison Excerpts in italics with my bolds.
On April 12, 2018, in the chambers of the Louisiana State House of Representatives, Rep. Major Thibaut Jr. stepped up to the microphone before the Speaker to introduce seemingly benign House Bill 727. According to his testimony, the bill was humble — almost technical — in scope and aimed primarily to add “pipelines” to the list of what the state considers “critical infrastructure.” It had faced no opposition in committee, Thibaut added, and had “over sixty-something authors.”
“It’s a good bill,” he said, then motioned for favorable passage. Ninety-seven legislators voted yay, three voted nay, and just like that, all 4.6 million residents of Louisiana took a step toward losing their First Amendment rights. Should the bill become law, it would impose severe penalties on peaceful protesters engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience actions at sites considered “critical infrastructure” by Thibaut’s bill. In fact, simply planning to take such an action, considered “conspiracy” by HB 727, could be punishable by fees of up to $10,000 and prison sentences as long as 20 years.
With the crack of a gavel, Louisiana joined the growing number of states across the nation with similar “critical infrastructure” bills moving swiftly through the courts and onto governors’ desks.
The first appeared in Oklahoma in May 2017. According to the bill’s author, Rep. Mark McBride, it was an attempt to keep Oklahoma from paying costs related to any Diamond Pipeline protests. The law beefed up penalties for protesters who trespassed on property containing a “critical infrastructure facility.” The definition of such facilities varies by state but tends to include energy-industry sites like pipelines, refineries and electrical power facilities.
Shortly after Oklahoma signed the bill into law, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded group that holds annual meetings with state legislators and lobbyists to vote on “model” legislation, took the measure up itself at its summit in Nashville, Tennessee, in December 2017. ALEC calls its model bill “The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act,” claiming the bill drew its “inspiration” from laws enacted in 2017 by the State of Oklahoma.
Since the ALEC Summit, bills like Louisiana’s HB 727 have cropped up all over the country. In Ohio, where construction on the Rover pipeline resulted in repeated spills of toxic drilling material, Senate Bill 250 suddenly appeared. Its language reflects the ALEC-inspired bill, aiming to “prohibit criminal mischief … on a critical infrastructure facility.” It would also impose fines on organizations “complicit” with said activity.
In Iowa, Senate Study Bill 3062 penalizes those who’d commit “sabotage” of critical infrastructure facilities with fines of up to $100,000 and 25 years in jail.
In March 2018, lawmakers in Minnesota introduced HF 3693, which would, among other things, criminalize anyone who “recruits, trains, aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with” a trespasser at an infrastructure site. Minnesota courts could use the law to punish these “conspirator” groups or individuals with a full year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine.
Louisiana House Bill 727, introduced in late March, is even more severe than the original ALEC-inspired legislation. If enacted, the law could potentially penalize people who never even set foot on one of its protected sites. Under the bill as written, simply discussing a possible trespass action could result in prison sentences of five years and fines up to $10,000. Actually damaging pipeline infrastructure could lead to 15 years in jail, and it could lead to 20 years if the damage interrupts construction site operations or endangers human life.
It remains unclear how the conspiracy clause of this bill would be enforced in Louisiana, should the measure become law. In a phone interview with Truthout, Alicia Cooke of the volunteer climate activist group 350 New Orleans wondered aloud, “How do you prove that someone is conspiring to trespass on property? Versus conspiring to gather near property?”
Now that the Louisiana bill has passed through the House, it will travel to the Senate for debate. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Iowa and Minnesota, state lawmakers are pushing their versions of the ALEC-inspired bill through committees and legislative chambers.
“It’s the ultimate irony,” said Cooke. “We’re considering critical infrastructure to be pipelines, oil refineries, and oil wells. But we’re not considering our own water, our own forests, our own wetlands to be critical infrastructure.”
Cooke, who continues to organize with 350 New Orleans against the bill, said she felt sad about it all, adding, “It just shows what we’ve chosen to prioritize in Louisiana.”
Rolfes, however, sees reason for hope. “Resistance to fossil fuels in general and oil specifically is growing,” she said. “Although it’s disheartening to see these bills, it shows you the status of their industry. Their future is on shaky footing.”
August 22, 2018 First Felony Arrests Near Bayou Bridge Construction Made Under New Louisiana Law Penalizing Pipeline Trespass Source: DeSmogBlog
Protesters intend to stop fossil fuel usage because of their belief in global warming/climate change. Acts of civil disobedience are by definition legal transgressions and incur penalties. Energy infrastructure is essential to our civilized society, and everyone is at risk if supply of fuels and power are restricted or blocked.
The problem here is people disrupting others’ lives due to their fears of the future (unfounded IMO). There are rules and places for legal protests to attempt to convince others of your concerns. The First Amendment does not permit trespassing on property where access is prohibited, and penalties are appropriate since the possibility of vandalism is involved. States are wise to prepare against eco-terrorism until CO2 hysteria loses its grip on impassioned believers.
See also: Upping the Stakes for Ecoterrorists