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Texas Lege Passes Bill Allowing Authorities to File Felony Charges Against Pipeline Protesters

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Under a new Texas law, protesters such as these people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline could face felony charges. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / BECKER 1999
  • Wikimedia Commons / Becker 1999
  • Under a new Texas law, protesters such as these people who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline could face felony charges.
In the closing hours of the legislative session, Texas lawmakers voted to approve a controversial measure that would make it a felony for protesters to interrupt the construction of oil pipelines.

Under House Bill 3557, “impairing or interrupting” a pipeline would become a felony punishable by up to two years behind bars. Damaging a pipeline during construction would carry even stiffer penalties, becoming a third-degree felony with up to 10 years in prison time.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s is expected to sign the energy industry-backed bill into law.

"This was a travesty," said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, adding that the proposal is an assault on the free-speech rights of landowners, indigenous groups and environmental activists.

Critics say HB 3557 specifically targets environmental groups by allowing the state to fine nonprofits found guilty under the law as much as $500,000. Most would fold if hit with such a stiff financial penalty, they add.

Environmentalists and some lawmakers unsuccessfully argued for softer penalties during debate on the bill. Schneider likened a felony conviction to a "scarlet letter" which would be enough to convince some protestors to stay home.

"It's a much deeper risk," Schneider said. "I think a lot fewer people will be willing to stand in front of bulldozers."

Last week, environmental and civil-liberties groups filed suit in Louisiana, alleging that state’s similar pipeline protest law is unconstitutional. Texas activists pledged to track the outcome of the Louisiana case.

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