Trump Administration Wants 20-Year Sentences For Pipeline Protesters

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The Trump administration wants to substantially increase the federal penalties for protesting oil pipelines, Think Progress reports.

Under the changes proposed, protesters of pipelines could face penalties of up to 20 years in prison for disrupting construction of oil or gas infrastructure. This change at the federal level would largely mirror similar harsh penalties which have been implemented against anti-pipeline activists in a number of states already.

Last week, updates were proposed to the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which would make interrupting pipeline construction or causing damage to existing pipelines a federal crime.

Per the proposed updates, “vandalism, tampering with, or impeding, disrupting or inhibiting the operation of” pipelines can be met with fines or even substantial jail time. Under the existing law, damaging existing pipelines can lead to up to 20 years in jail, but the proposed changes would bring sections of pipeline that are currently under construction eligible for the stricter guidelines.

Unrelated to protesters, additional pieces of the PHSMA changes would adjust the thresholds for how much damage must be incurred by a pipeline accident before an operator is required to report a problem. The proposed change in this regard would double the $100,000 benchmark that is currently in place.

According to the Trump administration, the proposed changes are essential to ensure the safety of existing operational pipelines as well as those that are under construction. Fossil fuel industry groups have already started to weigh in with their support of the changes.

The Natural Gas Council (NGC) called the potential changes a “positive step” and said that they are eager to review more specific recommendations, not to mention participate in the process to create the final piece of legislation. The NGC is an alliance that includes the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Gas Association (AGA), as well as others.

Activists and environmental groups, on the other hand, see things differently. A number of them are expected to oppose the new measures through protesting and by initiating formal legal action against the Trump administration.

Aside from the proposed federal changes, there have been a number of laws and regulations passed at the state level to similar ends, with comparable rules being implemented in Texas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, and other energy-rich states. These states often see pipeline opponents as harmful to their state economies and detrimental to the long-term prospects of the energy business. Some lawmakers at the state level have gone as far as to suggest pursuing anti-pipeline advocates even when they aren’t physically present at protests.