Three states push criminal penalties for fossil fuel protests amid coronavirus

Three states push criminal penalties for fossil fuel protests amid coronavirus
© WildEarth Guardians

Three states have moved toward enacting criminal penalties for protesting against fossil fuels amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) was the first to enact such a law, signing legislation earlier this month designating “natural gas or petroleum pipelines [as] key infrastructure assets,” and making “tampering with, impeding, or inhibiting operations of a key infrastructure asset [a] criminal mischief in the first degree.”

South Dakota Gov. Kirsti Noem (R) followed suit when on March 18 she signed into law legislation that would include oil, gas or utility equipment as “critical infrastructure,” and another bill classifying a felony “riot” as “intentional use of force or violence by three or more persons” that causes “any damage to property.”

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West Virginia was the latest state to curb fossil fuel protests when Gov. Jim Justice (R) backed legislation assigning critical infrastructure status to oil, gas and pipeline facilities and imposing fines of up to $25,000 on substantial damage on the sites.

The spree of legislation, first reported by The Huffington Post, comes as the Trump administration eases enforcement on restrictions aimed at polluters, approves a spree of mining projects and more. 

Critics say the legislation is timed to coincide with the coronavirus, as media attention is focused on the pandemic and not the fossil fuel protests. 

“While we are all paying attention to COVID-19 and the congressional stimulus packages, state legislatures are quietly passing fossil-fuel-backed anti-protest laws,” Connor Gibson, a researcher at Greenpeace USA, told HuffPost. “These laws do nothing new to protect communities. Instead they seek to crack down on the sort of nonviolent civil disobedience that has shaped much of our nation’s greatest political and social victories.”