Wyoming has become the third state to introduce a bill targeting pipeline protests, envisaging penalties of up to 10 years in prison for “impeding critical infrastructure” and up to US$1 million in fines for any organization that “aids, abets, solicits, encourages, hires, conspires, commands or procures a person to commit the crime of impeding critical infrastructure.”
The bill follows a similar document proposed by Ohio senators in early February, and another one, approved by the Iowa Senate a couple of days ago. All three bills are modeled on a document called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council that is close to the energy industry. The ALEC bill itself was based on two Oklahoma documents that have already been signed into law. More states are considering similar legislation.
On the one hand, the legislative drive to deter anti-pipeline protests can be seen as the fossil fuel industry seeking to tie the hands of environmentalists unjustly. On the other, energy infrastructure is deemed critical everywhere in the world. The legislative moves, coming amid a flurry of vocal opposition and protests targeting existing and new pipelines, could just as easily be interpreted as a way for the state governments to avoid protests escalating to actual attacks against oil and gas infrastructure.
Protesters, meanwhile, are not showing any sings that they plan to stop opposing pipelines. The most notable among these, and the biggest, was no doubt the Dakota Access protest that had thousands of people gather at the site of a controversial section of the pipeline to oppose its construction.
The gathering eventually had to be dispersed, but the initiators of the protests, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as well as three other tribes and a number of environmental organizations, are not giving up, attacking the project in court.
Critics of the bills warn that their sponsors are taking things too far, criminalizing legitimate protest behavior.