By Steve Horn • Wednesday, February 21, 2018 – 03:57
On the heels of Iowa and Ohio, Wyoming has become the third state to introduce a bill criminalizing the type of activities undertaken by past oil and gas pipeline protesters.
One of the Wyoming bill’s co-sponsors even says it was inspired by the protests led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access pipeline, and a sheriff involved in policing those protests testified in support of the bill at a recent hearing. Wyoming’s bill is essentially a copy-paste version of template legislation produced by the conservative, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Like the ALEC version, Wyoming’s Senate File 74 makes “impeding critical infrastructure … a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than ten (10) years, a fine of not more than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00), or both.” Two of the bill sponsors of SF 74, Republican Sens. Eli Bebout and Nathan Winters, are ALEC members. SF 74 has passed unanimously out of its Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves onto the full floor.
ALEC’s model bill, in turn, was based on two Oklahoma bills, HB 1123 and HB 2128. The Sooner State bills, now official state law, likewise impose felony sentencing, 10 years in prison, and/or a $100,000 fine on individuals who “willfully damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, or tamper with equipment in a critical infrastructure facility.” As DeSmog has reported, the Iowa bill has the lobbying support of Energy Transfer Partners — the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) which runs through the state — as well as that of the American Petroleum Institute and other oil and gas industry companies.
ALEC brings together primarily Republican Party state legislators and lobbyists to enact and vote on “model” legislation at its meetings, which take place several times a year. Within different task forces at these meetings, corporate lobbyists can voice their support or critiques of bills, while also getting a vote. Those bills often then are introduced as legislation in statehouses nationwide, as in this latest example in Wyoming.
Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in Wyoming has helped the state vastly increase its natural gas production and spurred pipeline build-out. However, multiple studies in recent years have also linked fracking-related activities around the small town of Pavilion to groundwater contamination.
Wyoming’s bill, like the ALEC model bill and one of the Oklahoma bills, includes language implicating any organization “found to be a conspirator” and lobbing a $1 million fine on any group which “aids, abets, solicits, encourages, hires, conspires, commands, or procures a person to commit the crime of impeding critical infrastructure.”
State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leland Christensen, a Republican and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said when he introduced the bill that legislative language was needed to hold accountable those “organizations that sponsor this kind of ecoterrorism.”