In Louisiana, pipeline opponents are fighting a law they say hinders their ability to practice free speech. A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Wednesday challenges an anti-protest law that could land a person behind bars for up to five years and $1,000 in fines.
Landowners, environmentalists, advocates, and even a journalist came together to sue the state of Louisiana over changes to the Louisiana Critical Infrastructure Law last year that punish those who conduct “unauthorized entry” near infrastructure like pipelines.
The plaintiffs describe the law’s aim in the complaint as “to chill, and harshly punish, speech and expression in opposition to pipeline projects.” They argue the law is unconstitutional because it’s vague and overly broad. The way they interpret it, anyone walking on a public road where a pipeline runs underneath could be at risk of prosecution with this law. State Attorney General Jeff Landry plans to “vigorously defend the 2018 law,” according to Reuters.
“By turning so much of the land in this state into critical infrastructure, the average person can find themselves facing five years in prison for literally just being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Pamela Spees, senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights, in a release from the organization.
Similar state legislation meant to protect oil and gas infrastructure has been popping up in the U.S. by the dozens since the movement at Standing Rock in 2016, when indigenous people from around the country and the world came together in North Dakota to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Though the pipeline went into service in 2017, their efforts live on through other indigenous-led efforts to challenge local fossil fuel infrastructure they say threatens their water, land, health, and ability to survive in an ever-warming world. After all, we can blame our climate crisis, in part, on our ongoing extraction and consumption of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels.
In Louisiana, more than a dozen individuals (including the plaintiffs) have been arrested protesting the 163-mile Bayou Bridge Pipeline and are now subject to imprisonment under the new law. And they’re not the only ones. The Texas Senate just passed similar legislation earlier this week that can punish protestors with up to a year behind bars and $10,000 in fines. There, people have been protesting the Permian Highway Pipeline Project, as Grist reports, which would move natural gas across 430 miles through Texas.
A little ways up north, South Dakota also passed something similar in March to prepare for any protests against the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. That move, however, put Governor Kristi Noem at odds with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, whose leaders have forbidden the governor from coming on their lands due to her decision to sign the bill.
As more of these laws begin to appear (and pass!), more environmentalists are taking a stand. They must. As climate change charges up hurricanes and fuels rainstorms, many feel they have no other choice.