Texas lawmakers yesterday approved legislation that would criminalize oil pipeline protests. The bill, passed by the Republican-dominated state Senate, and backed by the petroleum industry would classify pipelines as critical infrastructure like power plants and water-treatment plants. Protesters could then be charged with a third-degree felony with up to 10 years in prison.

Merely “impairing or interrupting operations” would be misdemeanor punished with fines up to $10,000 and up to a year in prison.

Environmental groups and indigenous activists, have been demonstrating against oil pipelines in the US and Canada for several years, most notable at Standing Rock. They responded with outrage. “Here in Texas, members of the legislative body are looking to pass laws that harshly criminalize free speech and the right to protest,” Juan Mancias, Tribal Elder with the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, said in a statement.

The bill’s author, GOP state Rep. Chris Paddie, dismissed concerns that the legislation would effectively criminalize protestors’ constitutional rights. As they face a tide of such laws in other states, however, activists know that is bullshit.

“Big oil is hijacking our legislative system,” Indigenous Environmental Network  Executive Director Dallas Goldtooth said. “Our Network is suing the state of South Dakota for passing a bill similar to the one being debated in Texas. Both are unconstitutional attempts to suppress public protest and are nothing but fear tactics. We will continue to support and fight beside the indigenous communities in Texas to make sure these unconstitutional laws do not stand.”

The measure only needs to be signed by Governor Greg Abbott’s to become law, and that seems inevitable.

“We are at a tipping point as our ecosystems decline at accelerated rates and instead of protecting our environment, we are protecting big oil and pipelines,” Jennifer K. Falcon, campaign manager with Society of Native Nations, said in a statement. “Across the country, we have seen these bills challenged for stripping us of our constitutional rights.”


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