Just when all the talk is of anti-abortion bills being introduced in several state legislatures, Texas is quietly going on about with its efforts to pass a bill which would make protesting pipelines punishable by up to 10 years in prison, according to Common Dreams.
The bill HB 3557, introduced by Republican Chris Paddie, was passed in the state House earlier this month, and will now go for a vote in the state Senate. The bill proposes that any interruption in the construction of energy infrastructure be deemed a felony on par with attempted murder, with sentences from two to 10 years.
The introduction of the bill has unsurprisingly caused consternation among critics who argue that the bill could be used as a tool to stifle dissent by energy companies. But Republican Chris Paddie tried to calm those fears by claiming that the bill only seeks to punish those who “damage or destroy critical infrastructure facilities” and not protesters protesting peacefully.
“This bill does not affect those who choose to peacefully protest for any reason. It attaches liability to those who potentially damage or destroy critical infrastructure facilities,” Paddie said.
But critics don’t agree with Paddie’s assessment and see the bill as a threat to democratic forms of protests.
Texas aims to make pipeline protest a third-degree felony, same as attempted murder. https://t.co/CjD8yiP5QL
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) May 17, 2019
Frankie Orona, executive director of the Society of Native Nations, told The Austin American-Statesman that there was no doubt that Paddie and his Republican colleagues had the interests of the energy companies in their hearts.
“It’s an anti-protest bill, favoring the fossil fuel industry, favoring corporations over people.”
Activists who have fought against the influence energy companies exert on politicians during their careers agree with this assessment of the bill favoring companies over people. Activist Lori Grover said the bill is “criminalizing conscientious, caring people who are canaries for their communities.”
A hearing on the law in the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development invited critics of the bill to speak out against the law, but it appears unlikely that their testimonies will have an impact. Furthermore, activists are concerned that the passing of the bill in the state House would encourage other states to pass similarly restrictive laws to clamp down on environmental protesters.
“The effort to punish pipeline protestors has spread across states with ample oil and gas reserves in the last two years and, in some cases, has garnered bipartisan support. Besides Louisiana, four other states — Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa — have enacted similar laws after protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline generated national attention and inspired a wave of civil disobedience,” read a report published in Grist this week.