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Oil Lobbyist Touts Success in Effort to Criminalize Pipeline Protests, Leaked Recording Shows

Published: August 19, 2019
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Source: The Intercept

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a powerful lobbying group that represents major chemical plants and oil refineries, including Valero Energy, Koch Industries, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Marathon Petroleum, has flexed its muscle over environmental and energy policy for decades. Despite its reach, AFPM channels dark money and influence with little scrutiny.

The group is now leveraging its political power to criminalize protests of oil and gas infrastructure.

In an audio recording obtained by The Intercept, the group concedes that it has been playing a role behind the scenes in crafting laws recently passed in states across the country to criminalize oil and gas pipeline protests, in response to protests over the Dakota Access pipeline. The laws make it a crime to trespass on public land used for “critical infrastructure,” impose a fine or prison time for violators, and hold protesters responsible for damage incurred during the protest. Many of the laws also carry heavy fines to groups and individuals who support such demonstrations.

The trade group, which was founded in 1902, has long played an outsized role in shaping policy disputes. Last year, AFPM and its members mobilized over $30 million to defeat the carbon tax proposed in Washington State, easily outspending an environmentalist campaign funded by philanthropist billionaires and small donors.

In June, Derrick Morgan, a senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at AFPM, spoke at the Energy & Mineral Law Foundation conference in Washington, D.C., explaining the role his trade group has played in criminalizing protests. AFPM did not respond to a request for comment.

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Sparking outcry from indigenous tribes and environmental groups, the Texas state Senate on Monday passed industry-backed Republican legislation that would hit pipeline protestors with a third-degree felony and up to ten years in prison. "Here in Texas, members of the legislative body are looking to pass laws that harshly criminalize free speech and the right to protest," Juan Mancias, Tribal Elder with the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, said in a statement.

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder. 

Civil liberties organizations and activists are pushing back against new laws which criminalize protests and free speech related to pipeline projects. In late March, a coalition of Native activists, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of South Dakota filed suit against the State of South Dakota in an effort to repeal recently passed state laws aimed at curbing “rioters” during the upcoming construction of the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline. South Dakota Senate Bill 189 and SB 190 have created controversy due to the potential to prevent peaceful and legal protest of environmental projects.

The new state legislative season is upon us and already over a dozen bills have been introduced across the country that assault the right to protest. New Jersey could start charging protesters with rioting and sentence them to five years in jail if another person at the protest damages property. Oklahoma could start charging stiff fees to protest at the state capitol. Missouri could start throwing anyone who engages in civil disobedience that impedes traffic in jail for 15 years. And a number of states are considering bills to create new or increased penalties for protesting near pipelines or on college campuses. 

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