South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is wasting no time attempting to quash any efforts to protest they Keystone XL Pipeline in her state. The Republican governor introduced two bills Monday meant to prevent out-of-state funding from fueling protests around the controversial crude oil pipeline, whose construction was slated to begin this year but is currently on hold.
“The legislative package introduced today will help ensure the Keystone XL Pipeline and other future pipeline projects are built in a safe and efficient manner while protecting our state and counties from extraordinary law enforcement costs in the event of riots,” said Noem in a statement.
The actual text of the legislative package is not yet published online, but the governor’s statement goes on to say it “allows us to follow the money for riots and cut it off at the source.” These laws still need approval from the state legislature to become law, but they aren’t the first attempt to pass anti-protest laws over controversial oil and gas infrastructure.
Anti-protest laws began to spring up around the country after the 2016 protests in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline. North Dakota is still struggling to recover from the $38 million it spent on the police forces it hired to deal with the surge of activists that aligned themselves with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which was contesting the pipeline over pollution concerns.
Since then, 35 states from Washington to Florida have considered some 86 bills meant to stop similar protests, according to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law’s U.S. Protest Law Tracker. Only 10 of these bills have been enacted, but some 18 are pending.
The concern fueling these latest anti-protest laws in South Dakota is that pipeline opponents—including the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and environmentalists concerned over potential pollution and the continued consumption of climate change-driving fossil fuels—will take to the streets and take direct action against the pipeline when construction begins.
It’s unclear when that will be, however. In February, a federal judge blocked most types of pre-construction work, including building worker camps, anywhere in the US until the Department of State conducts a proper environmental review. This court decision came after pipeline developer TransCanada attempted to get something moving along when the same judge paused the pipeline back in November. The proposed pipeline is supposed to transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta Tar Sands in Canada to Nebraska.
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota has come out against Governor Noem’s latest proposal, noting it could threaten First Amendment rights. “At best, these bills are entirely unnecessary,” said ACLU of South Dakota Policy Director Libby Skarin in a statement. “At worst, they are meant to chill speech.”
Things aren’t looking too good for the energy project right now, but should these laws pass, they won’t be looking so hot for opponents, either.
Update 3/7/19 3:24 p.m.: The state legislature passed the bills Thursday, per the ACLU of South Dakota. All they need now is Governor Noem’s signature, which is definitely happening. Oh, boy. In the meantime, the ACLU of South Dakota is weighing its options to respond.