by Ben Lefebvre and Anthony Adragna, Politico, June 2019
The Trump administration is joining calls to treat some pipeline protests as a federal crime, mirroring state legislative efforts that have spread in the wake of high-profile demonstrations around the country.
The Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration released a proposal Monday calling for Congress to expand a law that threatens fines and up to 20 years’ prison time for “damaging or destroying” pipelines currently in operation. The expanded version would add “vandalism, tampering with, or impeding, disrupting or inhibiting the operation of” either existing pipelines or those “under construction.”
While House Democrats will almost certainly block the proposal, it intensifies fights already underway in several energy-producing states to tamp down the waves of pipeline protests launched by progressive environmental advocates around the country as they seek to stop production of fossil fuels. PHMSA insists it doesn’t want to inhibit legitimate protests, but free speech advocates worry that efforts to impose massive fines and years in prison for “impeding” pipeline construction could also infringe on activists’ First Amendment rights.
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