Wednesday, May 22, 2019

States Outlawing Protest to Protect the Fossil Fuel Industry

Image Credit: Action Network
There is a movement to stymie protest by making it illegal and by levying fines and/or prison sentences. There has always been a rocky relationship between protests and government, but the situation is going from bad to worse as efforts are underway to make a mockery out of first amendment rights and outlaw protest altogether.

North Dakota has been on the front lines of pipeline protests. In 2016 the state government started fining people $1000 just for bringing in food and supplies to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) camps. In February 2017 DAPL protest camps were raided and the pipeline was completed in March 2019.

Louisiana’s Governor John Bel Edwards, signed HB 727 into law in 2018. The new law makes trespassing on critical infrastructure property a felony. Now protesting can get you a decade in prison and a $100,000 fine. States looking to insulate their own fossil fuel infrastructure from protests have passed similar legislation. This includes state governments in Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa. Most recently Texas lawmakers passed a bill (H.B. 3557) that makes interfering with fossil fuel infrastructure a third-degree felony like attempted murder. Other states including Minnesota, Kentucky, and Illinois are also considering such legislation. Bills in Kentucky and Illinois would make trespassing on critical infrastructure property a Class 4 felony with prison terms of up to 10 years.

Bills designed to kill protest are another volley of truth subversion from the fossil fuel industry. Many of these bills are being modeled on legislation from the Koch Brothers American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). At the end of 2017 ALEC proposed a model bill titled the "Critical Infrastructure Protection Act." This model legislation holds environmental groups liable for the actions of their members. An Oklahoma bill would hold organizations that support or compensate protestors liable for up to $1 million.

Organizations like the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and a wide range of oil and gas lobbyists actively support legislative initiatives outlawing protest.

"It's an anti-protest bill, favoring the fossil fuel industry, favoring corporations over people," Frankie Orona, executive director of the Society of Native Nations, told the Austin American-Statesman.  The advocacy group Public Citizen described the legislation as "an oil and gas backed effort to squash environmental protest.

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