Rightwing US Lobbyists Helped Craft Slew of Anti-Protest Fossil Fuel Bills

Legislation drafted by Alec part of backlash against Indigenous communities and environmentalists opposing oil and gas projects.

Republican-led legislatures have passed anti-protest laws drafted by an extreme right corporate lobbying group in a third of all American states since 2018, as part of a backlash against Indigenous communities and environmentalists opposing fossil fuel projects, new research has found.

In most of the bills, protestors, like those who participated in demonstrations against the Dakota Access pipeline, could now face felony charges, while those charged with “aiding” protests could face harsh fines. Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) helped draft legislation criminalizing grassroots protests against pipelines, gas terminals and other oil and gas expansion projects in 24 states, under the guise of protecting critical infrastructure.

Alec, which is funded by rightwing state lawmakers, corporate sponsors and trade groups, and wealthy ideologues, creates model legislation on a whole range of conservative issues such as gun control, abortion, education funding and environmental regulations.

The laws were passed in 17 Republican-controlled states, including Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, Kansas, West Virginia and Indiana, where protesters now face up to 10 years in prison and million dollar fines, according to a new report from the nonprofit Climate Cabinet.

The anti-protest bills, which were rolled out in response to the success of mostly Indigenous-led campaigns slowing down fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, have used intentionally vague language to create a chilling effect on free speech and assembly – both constitutionally protected rights, according to the report Critical Infrastructure Laws: A Threat to Protest & the Planet.

“Indigenous-led demonstrations opposing fossil-fuel projects have been one of the most successful and effective forms of climate action to date … in an affront to the protected freedoms of our constitution, state legislatures have found a new legislative mechanism to oppress frontline communities and cause further harm and destruction to our planet,” said Jonathon Borja, co-author of the report.

The first so-called critical infrastructure bills originated in Oklahoma in 2018, where Republican state representative Scott Biggs referenced North Dakota’s Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) protests and acknowledged that some anti-pipeline demonstrations have succeeded. “[The bill] is a preventative measure … to make sure that doesn’t happen here.”

Other states followed after Alec created a model bill for lawmakers to copy at scale. So far, the bills have not passed in any states where Democrats hold a majority in at least one legislative chamber, though some Democrats have voted in favor of them.

In most of the bills, protestors, like those who participated in the DAPL demonstrations, could now face felony charges, while those charged with “aiding” protests could face harsh fines.

Fossil fuel expansion projects halted by Indigenous-led campaigns represent the carbon equivalent of 12% of annual US and Canadian pollution, or 779 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, according to data gathered by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International.

The report comes as the White House and Congress negotiate the final terms of a controversial permitting side deal with the Democratic West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, which could make it harder to legally challenge new pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure.

Alec has been contacted for comment.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Donate
Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

The Latest

Ban on ‘Cyanide Bombs’ on US Public Lands Celebrated as a Win for Wildlife

Federal ban builds on decisions by states like Oregon to fully or partially prohibit the use of M-44s to kill predators and other wildlife.

Jimmy Tobias The Guardian

South Africa Is Taking a Huge Swing to Save Its Imperiled Penguins

The question now is, will it work?

Sarah Wild

Another Timber War Looms

Allowing the liquidation of old-growth forests could set off another era of conflict between loggers and environmentalists in the Pacific Northwest.

Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate

Ad Industry Grapples with Role Selling Consumption in Climate Crisis

Does being an effective agency mean selling more products or can it mean helping mitigate the climate emergency?

Amy Westervelt The Guardian

Preserving the Abodes of Tibetan Buddhist Deities

Under increasing climate pressures in Northeast India, monks and monasteries safeguard local lakes and forests.

Bikash K. Bhattacharya

Centuries-Old Trees Offer Clues to the Ongoing Southwest Megadrought

Scientists are using tree rings to inform climate research, but old specimens are increasingly vulnerable in our warming world.

Meryl Phair