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States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism


What you’ll read today 

  • Spotlight: States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism

  • A troubled federal prison unit gets a new life in a different state

  • Three more deaths in Mississippi prisons

  • California sheriff’s office illegally recorded attorney-client conversation

  • Candidate with felony record cleared to run for City Council in Austin, Texas

  • A death-penalty reporter sues to witness executions in Missouri

In the Spotlight

Spotlight: States use anti-protest laws to protect oil pipelines and criminalize environmental activism

Three water protectors arrested in Louisiana this month became the first to be charged under the state’s new law targeting oil pipeline protesters. The Bayou Bridge Project is a 163-mile-long pipeline that cuts through the Atchafalaya Basin, the country’s largest wetlands region. It has faced sustained opposition from environmental and indigenous activists. The project is the southern leg of a pipeline system stretching from the Gulf Coast to North Dakota and is a project of Energy Transfer Partners, the same company responsible for the Dakota Access Pipeline which fueled the months-long protests at Standing Rock.  According to the group L’eau Est La Vie, the water protectors, who have been trying to halt the pipeline’s progress, were charged with trespassing on critical infrastructure, a felony. [Mike Ludwig / Truthout]

Louisiana’s new law went into effect on Aug. 1. It added pipelines and pipeline constructions sites to a list of “critical infrastructure.” Unauthorized entry of critical infrastructure is punishable by up to five years in prison. Disrupting operations is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. [Mike Ludwig / Truthout]

A number of states began introducing “critical infrastructure” bills after the protests at Standing Rock. Oklahoma passed a law last spring. “Drawing inspiration” from the Oklahoma legislation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group of state legislators backed by corporate sponsors, finalized a model Critical Infrastructure Protection Act in January. Similar bills were later introduced in Iowa, Ohio, Wyoming, and Minnesota. [Alleen Brown and Will Parrish / The Intercept]

In April, Iowa’s governor signed into law a bill that the Huffington Post described as a “ramped-up version” of ALEC’s model bill. The Iowa law criminalizes protest on anything that could be conceivably understood as part of the fossil fuel industry’s “critical infrastructure.” It makes an action that intends a substantial and widespread “interruption or impairment of a fundamental service” of gas, oil, petroleum or refined petroleum products a felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. [Jeff Biggers / Huffington Post] The bill was developed by a group that included Energy Transfer Partners, the Dakota Access Pipeline parent company. [Alleen Brown / The Intercept]

The chairperson of the Iowa Sierra Club told Public News Service that historically, critical infrastructure has been a term applied to public lines that transport electricity, gas, and water. “The bill is particularly dangerous because it slips in the idea that a crude oil pipeline owned by a massive corporation not even located in Iowa is critical infrastructure,” she said. [Roz Brown / Public News Service]

Louisiana’s law, as originally drafted, also criminalized acts beyond what was included in the ALEC model bill. It would have created the crime of “conspiring” to trespass on critical infrastructure sites, punishable by up to five years in prison. A lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the Bayou Bridge Protestors, dubbed it “ALEC-plus.” [Alleen Brown and Will Parrish / The Intercept] The US Protest Law Tracker website, which follows state and federal initiatives that limit the right to protest, explains that, as originally introduced, the law was written “such that individuals who only planned to hold a peaceful protest on infrastructure property could be prosecuted.” Ultimately, the law hewed closely to ALEC’s model bill. [International Center for Not-for-Profit Law]

ALEC’s influence on the criminal legal system is not new. In 1995, 25 states adopted “Truth in Sentencing” laws developed by the group. ALEC pushed “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country. It was also influential in lobbying for laws that benefited its private prison company sponsors, including Arizona’s infamous immigration law, Senate Bill 1070.  [Mike Elk and Bob Sloan / The Nation] Most recently, a 2017 report by Color of Change and the ACLU looked at the insurance corporations participating in and profiting from the bail bond industry. It found that the big insurance companies behind bail “have been very effective at crafting and institutionalizing laws, regulations, and practices that protect their profits.” The key to this was the more than 20-year relationship the industry has cultivated with ALEC, to write and promote the passage of laws in state legislatures, while “very effectively derailing alternatives and reforms.” [Color of Change and ACLU]

The anti-protest bills that have been introduced since 2016 have had another set of influential supporters: law enforcement groups. In These Times reported this year that law enforcement in at least eight states lobbied in support of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. These bills included provisions to increase the penalties for blocking highways as well as measures similar to those in Louisiana’s bill to criminalize protest against oil pipelines. Because police support for legislation rarely takes place in public it is impossible to know the full extent across the country. Traci Yoder of the National Lawyers Guild, who analyzed the role of ALEC and corporations like Energy Transfer Partners in pushing anti-protest bills, told In These Times that law enforcement support for this legislation is “a direct response to the success and visibility of recent movements of color such as Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL.” She added: ”The collusion we are seeing between law enforcement, lawmakers, and corporate interests is undemocratic and designed to deter social movements for racial and environmental justice.” [Simon Davis-Cohen and Sarah Lazare / In These Times]

Stories From The Appeal

Drawing of a cell by Patrick Bearup, a man held in solitary confinement. [Patrick Bearup, by permission from Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR)]               

A Troubled Federal Prison Unit Gets a New Life in a Different State. Instead of changing conditions and practices, the Bureau of Prisons is simply moving a problem-plagued federal prison unit in Pennsylvania to Illinois. [Victoria Law]

Stories From Around the Country

Three more deaths in Mississippi prisons: As of Monday, Mississippi’s Department of Corrections had reported that seven men incarcerated in the state’s prisons had died this month. Yesterday, the department reported the deaths of James Myrick, Nija Syvallus Bonhomme, and John Luttrell, bringing the total to 10. A statement from the commissioner says the department believes “most of the 10 deaths” are from natural causes but does not have final information on the causes of any of the deaths until autopsies are complete. The chairperson of the state Senate corrections committee said he would be meeting with the commissioner to discuss the large number of deaths in quick succession. [Sarah Fowler / Clarion Ledger]

California sheriff’s office illegally recorded attorney-client conversation: In court on Monday, Alameda County public defender Brendon Woods asked a judge to order the county sheriff’s office to bar “eavesdropping and illegal recording of privileged communications” between attorneys and their clients. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday. The public defender’s office had obtained an illegal recording of a conversation between a client and his attorney and a body-camera recording of a sheriff’s sergeant’s conversation that suggested that illegal recordings were common. The revelations are especially troubling given that “numerous conversations between in-custody clients and their attorneys happen under the control of the sheriff’s office,” including in jail meeting rooms, jail phones and courthouse holding cells. Secretly recording conversations between people in custody and their attorneys is a felony under California law, and the Alameda County district attorney’s office, which turned over the recordings in discovery, has said it is will investigate whether to file charges. [Megan Cassidy / San Francisco Chronicle]

Candidate with felony record cleared to run for City Council in Austin, Texas: On Friday, the Austin city clerk asked Lewis Conway Jr. to prove his eligibility to run for City Council, pointing to provisions in the Texas election code that she argued barred his candidacy. Yesterday, a city spokesperson said city attorneys have determined that Conway can run. Conway, who was convicted of manslaughter in 1993, had been anticipating a challenge to his candidacy. He and his lawyers maintained, however, that his completion of parole and the restoration of his voting rights amounted to the release from his conviction’s “resulting disabilities,” a requirement under Texas election law for a person to be eligible to run for office. [Sydney Greene / Texas Tribune]

A death penalty reporter sues to witness executions in Missouri: In 2016, Chris McDaniels and the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Missouri was barring McDaniels from being an execution witness because of his extensive and critical reporting on the state’s lethal-injection protocol. The suit demands that the state be required to adopt a policy for choosing witnesses, something that every other death-penalty state has. In Missouri, the power to select witnesses rests entirely with the head of the corrections departments. McDaniels, who applied to be a witness in 2014, told the Columbia Journalism Review, “I think it’s a very important press-access issue. … [T]he biggest power a government can have is taking the life of someone, and it’s also the thing that’s carried out with the most secrecy at the state level.”  [Lauren Gill / Columbia Journalism Review]

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