The Assault on Environmental Protest

More than 50 state bills that would criminalize protest, deter political participation, and curtail freedom of association have been introduced across the country in the past two years. These bills are a direct reaction from politicians and corporations to the tactics of some of the most effective protesters in recent history, including Black Lives Matter and the water protectors challenging construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. 

If they succeed, these legislative moves will suppress dissent and undercut marginalized groups voicing concerns that disrupt current power dynamics.

Efforts vary from state to state, but they have one thing in common: they would punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment.

For example, bills introduced in Washington and North Carolina would have defined peaceful demonstrations as “economic terrorism.” In Iowa, legislators are currently considering bills that would create the crime of “critical infrastructure sabotage.” Labels like “terrorists” and “saboteurs” have long been misused to sideline already oppressed groups and to vilify their attempts to speak out.

Other bills are written so broadly that they could impose criminal penalties and devastating fines simply for offering food or housing to protestors. For instance, a bill currently being considered in Wyoming would impose a $1 million penalty on any person or organization that “encourages” certain forms of environmental protest. Legislation introduced in Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, and North Dakota would have allowed drivers to hit protesters with cars without criminal repercussions.

Corporations like Energy Transfer Partners — the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline — and industry groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council are encouraging these bills. Not surprisingly, the efforts have gotten the most traction in states key to oil and gas interests. 

Proponents of these bills are using “protection” of critical infrastructure as a guise for these First Amendment attacks. That framing completely ignores the many laws already on the books addressing those concerns, from trespass to property damage. Indeed, protesters are already being arrested under those laws across the country. 

Legislation is not the only tool the oil and gas industry is deploying in its effort to silence opposition. Six months ago, Energy Transfer Partners filed a $900 million dollar lawsuit against several environmental groups, including Greenpeace, alleging that a “criminal enterprise” was put in place to stop the pipeline project.

Similarly, 84 members of Congress sent a bipartisan letter to the Department of Justice earlier this fall, asking officials to prosecute pipeline activists as “terrorists” — a troubling policy that resembles the one being lobbied for at a federal level by the American Petroleum Institute.

Corporations are already abusing existing laws to silence dissent and shut the public out of decision-making. Now, lawmakers are trying to give corporate interests even more tools to punish people for speaking up for their families and communities. That is an attack on democracy — one our organizations will continue to resist. 

This piece was originally published on March 2 by The Hill.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

These protestors need to do something more constructive to help the environment then making a nuisance of themselves, like picking up roadside trash, planting trees, feeding birds, collecting money to purchase more land for wildlife refuges. I suppose it's more fun to get together with like minded people and make a nuisance of yourself though.

Anonymous

I think you are nuisance of yourself by typing your stupid comment over people who are protecting their grave sites the illegal oil company trashed.

Anonymous

Be positive and move forward in civilized fashion ?

Anonymous

This fossil fuel scammer wants to attack free speech for money. Nothing more.

Anonymous

Keep earning

Anonymous

Go suck an egg TROLL

Anonymous

Who ARE you? Since you indicate you have an advanced educational degree, I would hope you had learned to be a more knowledgeable, less snarky person. What college did you graduate from?

John

Lay off the acid, Doc. BTW, these are not mutually exclusive actions, amiright?

Anonymous

Don't we have over half the poor people locked up picking up free trash everywhere already. And far as money the more money raised, for certain things never make it to what it suppose to, It seem to only make it in the pockets of certain people. So nothing else works and seem.like the only way to be heard is people protesting and hope from that someone will do something about it. We have enough laws ,taking away from the poor ,and so called middle class people suffering people, What their needs to be more laws, for the people making the laws up, to have to apply to them like it does the poor ,and middle class people suffering . Then their wouldn't So many laws being broken ,or mistreating the 80% of the other people, that already striving suffering from the greed of the people that is suppose to be elected to protect all the people. Not just the top Rep/Rich people.

Anonymous

The big scandal here is that authorities have exploited post-9/11 "terrorism" laws to be used primarily on "non-terrorism" cases (which are governed by the Bill of Rights).

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