Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Anti-Protest Legislation Is Threatening Our Climate

Insights + Opinion
Standing Rock Supporters at the City Center Plaza of San Francisco in 2016. The protest was one of many in a global day of action against the Dakota Access Pipeline calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cancel the permit for the project. Protests like these, which are vital to ensuring a future we can live in are at stake with these threatening legislative trends. Michael Short / Greenpeace

By Maggie Ellinger-Locke

We only have about a decade to reverse course on the climate crisis. Activism opposing fossil fuel pipelines is needed more than ever. But activists are facing threats to their right to protest in state legislatures across the country. Lawmakers are introducing legislation to restrict the right to protest. These bills are often modeled on resolutions drafted by companies and passed through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people, and are usually supported by law enforcement groups. Advocates are fighting back, urging elected officials to vote against these bills. But even the mere introduction of these bills has the power to chill speech and curtail activism.


The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law has been tracking these bills where you can see nearly 100 have been introduced, so far.

The bills are not seeking to target protest generally, they are much more sneaky than that. Let me break it down.

There are several categories of bills that have been introduced and in some cases, enacted: anti-boycott legislation, bills that limit collective bargaining, bills that increase criminal penalties for protests against fossil fuel pipelines, bills that enhance criminal penalties for highway shut down protests, bills restricting the rights of students to oppose hate speech college campuses, and more.

Each category of bills attempts to criminalize a particular movement tactic, often to increase criminal penalties for already illegal conduct.

Here's how:

The trend emerged in 2015 and was first used against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement in support of the Palestinian rights. Anti-boycott legislation has been introduced, and in some cases enacted, on the federal level and in all but nine states. Another example is following large wildcat strikes in several states, bills have been introduced to limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector teachers unions. Bills targeting campus speech have been filed in response to student protests against white supremacists. And anti-mask wearing laws — which historically were designed to target the Klan — are now used to target anti-fascists.

But this was just the beginning.

By far the largest category of bills is designed to impact the Movement for Black Lives, which has used highway protests as one of its most successful tactics. Lawmakers introduced legislation that would increase penalties for these protests, and even bills that would remove liability for drivers who hit such protesters with their car. Thus far no anti-liability bills have actually been enacted, but this is hardly a victory, as introducing these bills discourages people from getting involved in the fight for racial justice.

And climate and anti-pipeline activists are also at risk. Fossil fuel pipeline protests, like we saw at Standing Rock and elsewhere, have been another target of those interested in passing these bills. The bills claim to protect "critical infrastructure" but are actually used to criminalize Water Protectors and environmental activism. The first of these bills was introduced and enacted in Oklahoma in 2017, a state with significant oil and gas interests, and the second largest Indigenous population in the country. When voting on these laws, Oklahoma legislators made clear that these bills were a direct response to pipeline protests.

Since that time, these bills have been introduced in nearly two dozen states, and enacted in five, though several more states are currently considering these bills.

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.

We've seen this latter element play out in another form: strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), like the one Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, brought against Greenpeace offices and others. The original lawsuit filed against Greenpeace sought 900 million dollars in treble (triple) damages under RICO, but a federal court recently dismissed the RICO claims with prejudice.

Under these new laws, the punitive fine organizations face can be as much as ten times the amount an individual might face. Energy Transfer is one of several companies that has been lobbying for these bills. The American Petroleum Institute — the lobbying arm of the industry — is also behind much of this.

We've got just over a decade to curb the worst effects of climate change. At a time where climate action is needed more than ever, our lawmakers must say no to fossil fuels and work to keep them in the ground. This session critical infrastructure bills have been introduced in 13 states, primarily in the Midwest. If you live in one of these states, contact your lawmakers and ask them to vote no. And let your friends and family know they can make a difference by speaking out. Time is running out. Take action and resist these attempts to silence dissent.

    Maggie Ellinger-Locke is a staff attorney at Greenpeace USA.

    EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

    The Yersinia pestis bacteria causes bubonic plague in animals and humans. Illustration based on light microscope image At 1000x. BSIP / UIG Via Getty Images

    A herdsman in the Chinese autonomous region of Inner Mongolia was diagnosed with the bubonic plague Sunday, The New York Times reported.

    Read More Show Less
    Plant pathologist Carolee Bull works in her home garden in State College, Pennsylvania. Carolee Bull, CC BY-ND

    By Matt Kasson, Brian Lovett and Carolee Bull

    Home gardening is having a boom year across the U.S. Whether they're growing their own food in response to pandemic shortages or just looking for a diversion, numerous aspiring gardeners have constructed their first raised beds, and seeds are flying off suppliers' shelves. Now that gardens are largely planted, much of the work for the next several months revolves around keeping them healthy.

    Read More Show Less
    Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income. Flickr / CC by 2.0

    By Emma Charlton

    The effects of climate change may more far-reaching than you think.

    Hotter temperatures have been linked to a rise in energy poverty, with more people struggling to meet their energy bills from their household income, according to a new study published on ScienceDirect by researchers from Italy's Ca' Foscari University.

    Read More Show Less
    Naegleria fowleri (commonly referred to as the "brain-eating amoeba") is a free-living microscopic amoeba (single-celled living organism). Centers for Disease Control

    As if the surging cases of coronavirus weren't enough for Floridians to handle, now the state's Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed that a person in the Tampa area tested positive for a rare brain-eating amoeba, according to CBS News. The Florida DOH posted a warning to residents to remind them of the dangers of the rare single-celled amoeba that attacks brain tissue.

    Read More Show Less

    Scientists are urging the WHO to revisit their coronavirus guidance to focus more on airborne transmission and less on hand sanitizer and hygiene. John Lund / Photodisc / Getty Images

    The World Health Organization (WHO) is holding the line on its stance that the respiratory droplets of the coronavirus fall quickly to the floor and are not infectious. Now, a group of 239 scientists is challenging that assertion, arguing that the virus is lingering in the air of indoor environments, infecting people nearby, as The New York Times reported.

    Read More Show Less
    Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix. Flickr / CC by 2.0

    Along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico, oysters live in coastal estuaries where saltwater and freshwater meet and mix.

    Read More Show Less

    Trending

    Japan Self-Defense Forces and police officers join rescue operations at a nursing home following heavy rain in Kuma village, Kumamoto prefecture on July 5, 2020. STR / JIJI PRESS / AFP / Getty Images

    Scores of people remained stranded in southern Japan on Sunday after heavy rain the day before caused deep flooding and mudslides that left at least 34 people confirmed or presumed dead.

    Read More Show Less