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3 States Pass Anti-Pipeline Protest Bills in Two Weeks

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3 States Pass Anti-Pipeline Protest Bills in Two Weeks
Protesters face off against security during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

Update, April 20: This article has been updated to include the fact that the final Kentucky bill was amended to narrow the scope of the new penalties.

In just two weeks, three states have passed laws criminalizing protests against fossil fuel infrastructure.


Between March 16 and March 25, the governors of Kentucky, South Dakota and West Virginia all signed laws designating oil and gas pipelines and facilities "critical" or "key" infrastructure and imposing new penalties for anyone caught tampering with them, HuffPost reported Friday. The laws came as much of the nation was absorbed by the spread of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,000 people in the U.S. so far.

"While we are all paying attention to COVID-19 and the congressional stimulus packages, state legislatures are quietly passing fossil-fuel-backed anti-protest laws," Greenpeace USA researcher Connor Gibson, who alerted HuffPost to the laws' passage, told the news site. "These laws do nothing new to protect communities. Instead they seek to crack down on the sort of nonviolent civil disobedience that has shaped much of our nation's greatest political and social victories."

The push to criminalize anti-fossil fuel protests predates the coronavirus pandemic, however, and is part of a broader conservative movement to pass legislation that makes civil disobedience more difficult, as Greenpeace pointed out last year.

Since 2015, bills have been introduced that target particular movement tactics like boycotts, strikes and traffic blockage and increase the penalties for already-illegal activities. In the case of anti-pipeline protests, the laws have sold themselves as protecting "critical infrastructure" but follow a very specific playbook, as Greenpeace explained:

Generally, critical infrastructure bills share several common elements. (1) They create new criminal penalties for already illegal conduct — for example, turning misdemeanor trespass (a common charge for civil disobedience) into a felony. (2) They broadly redefine the term "critical infrastructure" to include everything from cell phone towers to trucking terminals; far greater than the fossil fuel pipelines the bills purport to protect. (3) The bills also seek to create liability for organizations that support protesters by treating such support as a criminal conspiracy.

To date, 11 states have enacted similar "critical infrastructure" legislation, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law's U.S. Protest Law Tracker.

So what exactly do the three most recent laws say?

Kentucky

The Kentucky law, signed by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear March 16, designates "natural gas or petroleum pipelines" as "key infrastructure assets." The area designated as key infrastructure is not limited to areas that have been fenced off or marked with "no entry" signs. The law creates a new felony offense for "tamper[ing] with the operations of a key infrastructure asset... in a manner that renders the operations harmful or dangerous." The final Kentucky bill was amended to narrow the scope of the new penalties from targeting "impeding" or "interfering" with a pipeline to focus only on "tampering." It also got rid of liability for groups or people who funded pipeline tampering and restricted it to those who intentionally caused it.

South Dakota

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed two laws this month that could have a chilling effect on protests, according to HuffPost. The first, signed March 18, counts all oil and gas facilities and equipment as critical infrastructure and increases the charges for "substantial interruption or impairment" of these facilities to felonies. The second, signed March 23, defines a "riot" as "any intentional use of force or violence by three or more persons, acting together and without authority of law, to cause any injury to any person or any damage to property" and creates a new felony offense for "incitement to riot," according to the U.S. Protest Law Tracker.

West Virginia

The West Virginia law, signed by Gov. Jim Justice (R) Wednesday, also designates a wide range of oil, gas and utilities as "critical infrastructure" and increases fines and sentences for trespassing, trespassing with intent to "vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment, or impede or inhibit operations," and actually vandalizing equipment or impeding operations, according to the U.S. Protest Law Tracker.

These bills are not the last on the horizon, according to HuffPost. Another passed the Alabama Senate in March, and similar legislation has been introduced in Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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