The pipeline industry is ramping up its campaign against activists.
In Iowa, legislation backed by Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, would criminalize peaceful protest.
Former Iowa lawmaker Ed Fallon argues that “multiple acts of arson and vandalism against the pipeline in 2016 and 2017 provided the ostensible justification for this legislation, giving Energy Transfer Partners the cover it needed to push for a bill that has nothing to do with sabotage and everything to do with silencing nonviolent dissent.”
“Under Iowa law, arson and vandalism are already serious crimes,” Fallon says. “Remember Charles Willard, the man who torched a Catholic church in Stuart, Iowa in 1995? He got 25 years – the same number of years prescribed in the proposed legislation. Further cracking down on arson and sabotage isn’t necessary. The Iowa Code already has it covered.”
Fallon says that the so-called “critical infrastructure sabotage” legislation could potentially apply the 25-year sentence, plus a fine of up to $100,000, to completely peaceful and nonviolent protesters who “cause a substantial interruption or impairment of service.”
Energy Transfer Partners originally said oil would flow through its pipeline in the fall of 2016, Fallon said. Yet because of numerous delays, some caused by protesters, oil didn’t begin to flow until June of 2017.
“It’s impossible to say how this legislation would be interpreted in a court of law, but the company could argue that, given the delay, protesters caused an ‘interruption; of service and deserve the maximum fine and penalty,” Fallon said. “What a chilling effect that would have on the First Amendment.”
Last October, eighty members of the House of Representatives, led by Congressman Ken Buck, sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting information on the Department of Justice’s actions to prosecute individuals who engage in “criminal activity against energy infrastructure.”
“Environmental activists who choose to use violence against our nation’s energy infrastructure and the men and women who work in the energy industry should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Congressman Ken Buck said. “While I will continue to support their right to protest policies they disagree with, we need to send a strong message to those who destroy property that such dangerous behavior will not be tolerated by the communities who live around and rely on this energy infrastructure.”
Buck said that in October of 2016, several activists attempted a coordinated attack against oil pipeline infrastructure and subsequent attacks occurred on the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“Environmental extremists have been open about their intentions to damage infrastructure and hurt people in order to advance their political agenda,” Buck said. “Some have filmed and posted their criminal behavior online, while another wrote a letter to the editor to a Colorado newspaper calling for violence against energy infrastructure and employees of energy companies. Under pressure, the newspaper ultimately edited the online version of the letter.”
Congressman Buck’s letter to the Department of Justice seeks information as to whether federal statutes adequately allow the Department of Justice to prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastructure and whether the Department has and will federally prosecute individuals engaged in this illegal activity.
Congressman Buck’s office said that the Department has yet to reply to the letter. The Department says it has received the letter but will not comment further.
“After the powerful success of the Indigenous-led. movement at Standing Rock we’re seeing a major backlash on pipeline activism, driven primarily by the oil industry,” said Molly Dorozenski of Greenpeace. “This letter to the Department of Justice asking for pipeline activists to be treated as terrorists willfully misconstrues constitutionally protected speech activities as terrorism despite evidence to the contrary.”
“It’s fear mongering at its worst, and it’s designed to shut down dissent on controversial pipeline projects. It’s no surprise that the American Petroleum Institute is pushing for these dangerous policies at the federal level since the goal is simply to trample speech in order to pave the way for oil company profits.”
“Peaceful protesters at Standing Rock were met by attack dogs, rubber bullets and fire hoses,” Dorozenski said. “The true terrorism happening around pipeline activism is coming from the state and Tiger Swan, a private security firm hired by Energy Transfer Partners, not from Indigenous people, climate activists and land owners protecting land, water, climate and sovereignty. This dynamic of peaceful protest met with excessive force is playing out throughout the country, so the terrorism label seems particularly off base.”
“This letter is just one of many examples of how the oil industry, through representatives that it funds, is fighting back against peaceful protest. More than fifty laws have been proposed around the United States over the past year including two new laws in Iowa built from a model bill written by ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). Energy Transfer Partners, along with Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute, are lobbying for the Iowa law which introduces extreme penalties for pipeline activism.”
“At the same time Greenpeace and other partners are being sued for $900 million dollars for standing in solidarity with the protests at Standing Rock. Some of the pieces of evidence in the suit are blogs and tweets showing our support, and our connections with other environmental organizations. These laws, lawsuits and troubling developments from the Department of Justice are striking at the heart of fundamental, constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”