Virginia lawmaker sues Forest Service over protester rights

A Virginia Democratic state lawmaker is suing the U.S. Forest Service for access to a road where a group of protesters are demonstrating against a pipeline project.

State Sen. Chap Petersen filed the suit in federal court on Wednesday, according to The Washington Post, alleging that officials are illegally blocking access to the road in order to prevent people from bringing food and supplies to a “tree sitter.”

The protester named in the suit, identified only as “Nutty,” is one of several tree sitters attempting to block federal officials from clearing trees to build the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline.

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Forest Service officials said they blocked access to the road for safety reasons, but Petersen argues in the lawsuit that they are in violation of the First Amendment, and is asking that the road to be reopened to the public.

“People have a right to be there,” he told The Washington Post. “This is a political act that’s taking place; it’s political expression.”

The pipeline company is involved in a separate legal battle regarding the project’s protesters. The company is asking a judge to hold a separate tree sitter and her family in contempt of court and forcibly remove them from the trees.