ALEC Hard At Work Keeping Indigenous People From Protesting Big Oil

Back in 2016, members of the Standing Rock tribe in North and South Dakota led protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, on the grounds that they did not want their water to be poisonous and also preferred to not have a giant oil pipeline crashing through their ancient burial grounds and what have you. Sadly, the protests were not successful and the pipeline now transfers hundreds of thousands of barrels of light crude oil a day.

During the protests, security guards attacked the protesters with pepper spray and dogs after some of them crossed a fence onto the construction site ... and that wasn't something groups like Energy Transfer Partners, which owns the pipeline, ever wanted to see happen again. Not because of compassion for the protesters, mind you. They just really wanted to put a stop to the whole protesting thing so that they and companies like them could just trash the everloving hell out of the land without all the bad publicity that comes from pepper spraying and siccing dogs on indigenous people who don't want them destroying their ancient burial grounds and poisoning their water supply.

PREVIOUSLY: Pipeline Goons Sic Dogs On Native American Protesters, Because America

Luckily, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was more than happy to help make that happen. For the unfamiliar, ALEC is a rightwing political lobbying organization that writes model legislation meant to help private corporations get a leg up in a world that is always trying to tear them down. Or, at the very least, irritate them with a bunch of silliness about how they don't want to drink poison water. Nearly all of the worst state laws and statutes in this country — anti-immigration laws, anti-gun control laws, anti-labor laws, Stand Your Ground laws, Voter ID laws, laws benefiting private prisons, etc. etc. — have been brought to you, to us, by ALEC.


Now, a new report from the non-profit Climate Cabinet, Critical Infrastructure Laws: A Threat to Protest & the Planet, explains the way ALEC has also been behind the so-called "Critical Infrastructure" laws that have been passed in 17 states and introduced in seven more.


Anti-protest critical infrastructure bills have been enacted in seventeen states: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Legislatures have considered them in seven more states: Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming. Data from the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law.Climate Cabinet


What the hell is a "Critical Infrastructure" law, you ask? Well, it's a law that imposes hefty criminal penalties for those who trespass while protesting critical infrastructure facilities, as well as for any organization that supports protesters who, at some point, trespass on that property.

As ALEC itself explains:

Drawing inspiration from two laws enacted in 2017 by the State of Oklahoma, this Act codifies criminal penalties for a person convicted of willfully trespassing or entering property containing a critical infrastructure facility without permission by the owner of the property, and holds a person liable for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing. The Act also prescribes criminal penalties for organizations conspiring with persons who willfully trespass and/or damage critical infrastructure sites, and holds conspiring organizations responsible for any damages to personal or real property while trespassing.

The express purpose of these is not only to discourage protest, but to keep protesters from getting any kind of support for their protests from non-profit organizations and businesses.

Via Climate Cabinet:

[T]he Oklahoma-ALEC model imposes “vicarious liability,” its most powerful and previously unheard of deterrent against protest. This provision puts organizations on the hook for loosely defined associations with protesters. The penalties include criminal and civil liability. Criminal liability kicks in when protesters get arrested and fined under a critical infrastructure law. Whatever fine the protester pays, courts can charge ten times that amount to any organization that "conspired" with the protester. For civil liability, the protesters only need to be arrested. Even if the courts find them innocent, a pipeline company could sue the protesters and any organizations that “provide consideration" to them.

That last sentence is somewhat ironic given ALEC's long standing battle for tort reform, but sure, "sue people for things other people did or didn't do and were in fact acquitted of" seems very legal and very cool.

These bills are a massive blow to the First Amendment. While, sure, no one has the right to vandalize private property or to trespass (unless they are building a massive pipeline and would like to use eminent domain to force you to leave your home or give up your farm), the laws are excessively punitive and meant to deter all protest and support for those protests. The model legislation they are getting passed literally makes it an actual felony to break these laws, all of which are usually misdemeanors:

Any person who shall willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a felony punishable by a fine of (dollar figure, or by imprisonment in the custody of the {Department of Corrections [or substitute the appropriate State equivalent thereof] for a term of not more than length of time}, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

That's a big deal, especially considering that many of the states that have passed these laws also bar felons from ever voting again.

While DAPL did eventually go through, Indigenous-led protests have been some of the most successful climate-change-related protests in general. The Guardian reports that "[f]ossil fuel expansion projects halted by Indigenous-led campaigns represent the carbon equivalent of 12% of annual US and Canadian pollution, or 779m metric tons of greenhouse gases." Given how much these companies enjoy causing pollution, it is hardly surprising that they would want to put a stop to them. It is unfortunate, however, that they have so much help from state governments.

Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse

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