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Industry backs bill criminalizing infrastructure ‘interference’

“If you destroy a pipeline that’s going to homes that are trying to keep warm during the wintertime,” said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, “you’re going to not only hurt the pipeline and the company that spent ...

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Industry supporters turned out en masse at a legislative committee meeting Friday to support a bill that will impose severe penalties on protesters and anyone else who damages or interferes with “critical infrastructure” such as a pipeline or a mine.The measure would impose long prison sentences on anyone who “impedes or inhibits” operation of critical industrial infrastructure and make organizations supporting them vulnerable to $1 million fines.Opponents say the legislation threatens American democratic traditions of free speech and peaceable assemblyProtesters historically have disrupted business operations as they contested social and economic conditions.Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Leland Christensen (R-Alta), the lead sponsor of SF-74 Crimes against critical infrastructure, disagreed with the bill criticsHe said the law won’t be used against people who protest legally.“There are no ‘unintended consequences,’” he wrote in an email to WyoFile.Christensen asked industry lobbyist Cindy DeLancey to present the bill to the Senate Judiciary CommitteeTypically, the sponsor of a bill will explain the purpose of the measure and its changes to state statutesThe Wyoming Business Alliance, the organization DeLancey serves as executive director, spent considerable time working on the bill, she saidDeLancey described it as an attempt to protect infrastructure from destruction likely to “cause severe loss of economic activity, injury or even loss of life.” DeLancey explained how the bill would protect those facilities to the committeeThree of the five members of the panel are bill sponsorsThe bill became public days before the 2018 legislative session began.“In the Senate Judiciary Committee, it is not uncommon for interested and supporting parties to introduce a bill,” Christensen wrote in his email to WyoFileHe noted that while an industry representative had presented the bill, a variety of state entities support it“While industry is clearly engaged,” Christensen said, “I place high regard on the unified support of our Wyoming public safety agencies and local elected officials.”Sabrina King, policy director for the Wyoming ACLU and a bill opponent, said Delancey’s introduction emphasized that the bill came from business interests worried about protesters“It’s clear again this bill is not addressing any issues [Wyoming] is currently facing,” King saidFollowing DeLancey’s presentation of the bill, lobbyists for Wyoming mining, petroleum, manufacturing, railroad and business groups spoke in support of itOpponents who testified argued laws already exist to punish such actsThey said the bill is designed to stifle environmental advocacy and the public’s right to protest.Under Senate File 74, critical infrastructure like this oil rig north of Casper would receive special protections under the law(Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)The committee voted 5-0 to send SF-74 to the Senate floor for further considerationIt did so after adding more categories to the list of infrastructure facilities it would make a felony to trespass upon.After Jody Levin, a lobbyist for Charter Communications, asserted that cable television wires also provide critical communication services, the committee added “cable television infrastructure” to the list of infrastructure protected under the billThe committee also added language to protect infrastructure for irrigation and broadened the definition of dams covered to include “any dam that supplies irrigation, industrial or municipal water supplies.”Never miss a story — subscribe to WyoFile’s free weekly newsletterLawmakers amended the legislation to specify that impeding infrastructure would only become a felony if it was intentionalThey also deleted language referring to vandalizing critical infrastructure, after concerns were raised that the bill would make a felon out of a teenager who painted graffiti on an oil pipeline, for exampleThe amendments did not satisfy environmental and social justice organizations worried that the legislation will make them vulnerable to $1 million fines for advocating or supporting protests that involve protected infrastructureNor did the committee amendments alleviate concerns that the bill was designed to chill free speech and target environmental advocates, said the ACLU’s KingAn amendment to define impeding as only including actions “not authorized by law” wouldn’t protect advocates, she said“Does it have to be laid out explicitly in state law how you can advocate?” she saidIndustrial assets critical to societyBill sponsors say the industrial interests represented at the committee meeting manage private assets that are critical public infrastructure because of the essential services they provide and the far-reaching effects of their destructionIndustry representatives supported that contention.“If you destroy a pipeline that’s going to homes that are trying to keep warm during the wintertime,” said Bruce Hinchey, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, “you’re going to not only hurt the pipeline and the company that spent several hundred million dollars just to build the thing … you get to the homes where they don’t have the natural gas and all those homes are going to be freezingI don’t know how those people are going to keep warm or cook their food.”It’s not just individual bad actors, Hinchey said“Environmental organizations do actually say that people should go and do things like this,” he said Wyoming Outdoor Council lobbyist Steff Kessler told lawmakers she has never heard of a Wyoming environmental group advocating “ecoterrorism” in her decades-long career in the state Opponents argued laws about trespassing and vandalism are already on the booksThey say the bill is a reactionary response to recent high-profile protests against certain fossil fuel projectsWyoming statute currently considers criminal trespass a misdemeanor, punishable by not more than six months in prison, a fine of up to $750, or bothProperty destruction has a similar penalty if the property destroyed is worth less than $1,000Destroying property of a higher value is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $10,000, or bothSenate File-74 would impose a felony penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 for impeding infrastructure, or bothIt would also make it a felony offense to trespass with the “intent” to impede infrastructure, even if the act itself is stopped or not carried outOrganizations can be held responsible and fined up to $1 million if they aid, abet, solicit, encourage, compensate, conspire, command or procure someone to trespass on critical infrastructure, the bill statesSenLarry Hicks (R-Baggs) argued existing statute is not strong enough because it does not punish a trespasser’s intent.SenLarry Hicks (R-Baggs) bows his head as the Wyoming Legislature spends a moment in prayer on the opening day of the 2018 Legislative Session(Andrew Graham/WyoFile)“They’re woefully inadequate for the intent,” Hicks said“We need to do something to document the intent.”Larry Wolfe, a Cheyenne attorney who spent decades representing the mineral industry, excoriated the committee for attempting to suppress dissent.“This bill appeals to the absolute worst instincts of power,” he said“We the powerful must protect things that are already protected under existing law.” Wolfe argued that protesting fossil fuels or some other form of infrastructure by impeding its construction or repair is an exercise of a fundamental right.“Are you suggesting that it’s freedom of speech to block somebody from repairing a problem on a wind turbine?” asked Christensen“I’m suggesting, MrChairman, that what you’re trying to do here is against American democratic principles that we all hold dear,” Wolfe saidSenCale Case (R-Lander), one of three senators to vote against the bill’s introduction, expressed a sentiment similar to Wolfe’s in an email to WyoFile“This country has been through WWII, civil unrest in the 1960s and a heck of a lot more, but we didn’t need legislation like this,” Case wrote to WyoFile“Good laws already exist to protect property without this chilling impact on free speech.”Specter of a Wyoming Standing RockEric Dalton, who testified as a member of the public, questioned the motive behind the legislation“What is the problem we’re really trying to solve?” he said“It really goes back to the Standing Rock [protests].”Much of the discussion at Friday’s committee meeting did reference the Standing Rock Indian Reservation protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North DakotaAn advocate for Wyoming law enforcement said Wyoming needs the legislation to prevent its own Standing RockSpeaking on behalf of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, Laramie County Sheriff Danny Glick told the lawmakers he had witnessed property destruction at Standing RockIt could happen in Wyoming, he said.“I don’t want people to think that that just happened in North Dakota,” Glick said“One of our Niobrara county commissioners already has graffiti going up — ‘No DAPL’ — in that area up there.” In a subsequent interview, Glick told WyoFile he has not personally seen crimes to impede infrastructure in Wyoming“This bill is in preparation for the potential of what happened in North Dakota,” he said.“Our stance is obviously we respect the right of people to protest peacefully, but not when it comes to property destruction as great as is outlined in this [bill]” he said Senate president supports bill, ALEC In many of its sections, SF-74 mimics model legislation advertised on the American Legislative Exchange Council’s websiteALEC is a think tank that works on state-level policy, particularly around business issuesALEC is supported by both dues from lawmakers — who attend conferences and receive research products — and industry dollarsThe latter vastly outnumbers the former, according to tax documentsIn 2016, ALEC generated around $1.46 million in revenue from conferences and membership duesMembership dues alone contributed just $74,609Gifts and contributions from corporate and individual donors totaled more than $8.8 million that yearThe disparity gives credence to the idea that ALEC is designed to enable corporations to influence state legislators, according to the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy.Many of the corporations that support ALEC build infrastructure or are involved in the fossil fuel industryEnergy Transfer Partners, the company that built the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Koch brothers with their sprawling business interests, are among themEarlier this year, three Wyoming lawmakers skipped a state legislative committee meeting in order to attend a conference on balancing the federal budget in PhoenixTheir travel was funded in part by ALEC.“From my perspective it’s a tool and a vehicle that we utilize,” said Senate President Eli Bebout (R-Riverton)Bebout is a cosponsor on SF-74In the case of that bill, he didn’t realize it was based on model legislation from ALEC, he said“Some people like to look at their model legislation,” he said, if it “has a philosophy consistent with what they do — private sector and free markets, that’s what [ALEC’s] kind of based upon.”Bebout recognized that SF-74 is generating controversy, and said he had received emails from people concerned about the legislation.“We have people way over here on that issue and way over here on that issue,” he said“But there’s concerns about security issues and why not be proactive?”Senate President Eli Bebout (R-Riverton) speaks to the press on the opening day of the 2018 Legislative Session(Andrew Graham/WyoFile)Christensen sent WyoFile the following list of supporters of the legislation — with state-connected and law enforcement entities underlined and in bold font: “Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs (of) Police; Wyoming County Commissioners Association; Wyoming Association of Municipalities; Wyoming Business Alliance; Petroleum Association of Wyoming; Wyoming Mining Association; Wyoming Trucking Association; Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association; American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association; Alliance of Wyoming Manufacturers; Wyoming Soda Ash Producers; Rocky Mountain Power; Holly Frontier Corporation; Sinclair Oil; Anadarko Petroleum; Andeavor; ONEOK; Westmoreland Coal, Dyno Nobel, Black Hills Energy; Charter Communications”The bill was a late entry to the legislative process, and was not publicly considered by the Joint Judiciary Committee over the months leading up to the sessionState statute keeps lawmakers’ bill drafting process confidential until the legislation is completed to the sponsor’s satisfactionThe first notice that the public had that SF-74 would be discussed was when it appeared on the Legislative Service Office website a few days before the session openedThe measure has stirred up bitter feelings leftover from Standing RockOn Friday, Dale Steenbergen lobbied lawmakers to support the billHe said he made his case as an agriculturalist whose family owns a ranch in Oklahoma, which enacted similar legislation in 2017Steenbergen is also president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce.“One of the things that really bothers me today when I hear people talking about my people, that ranch in this country, is that they’re going to set this up as the Koch brothers against some poor little protester,” he said“I’m all for freedom of speech and everyone should have it, but if you start impeding on people’s property and their livelihood, something needs to happen.”After protests, “who fixes the fences when they leave? Who picks up the trash when they leave? Who repairs the grasslands when they leave?” Steenbergen askedDalton, the member of the public who spoke against the bill, called the costs incurred by law enforcement and other agencies in North Dakota “the burden of democracy.” Did You Like This Story?donate now About the Author [email protected] Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from LaramieHe covers state government, energy and the economyReach him at 443-848-8756 or at [email protected], follow him @AndrewGraham88 Please read WyoFile's commenting policy 2 Responses to Industry backs bill criminalizing infrastructure ‘interference’ Linda Anderson February 20, 2018 at 11:08 am # This bill is frightening in its intent to protect the right to damage the environment for profit over the right of people to protect property rights, public health, and the health of the planet While it might be okay to increase penalties for actual destruction of corporate owned infrastructure, it is not okay to criminalize “impeding” those functions as a legitimate form of protest This bill is a blatant attack on free speech and freedom of assembly, and a corrupt legalization of damage to the environment for profit while criminalizing efforts to protect the environment The “environment” sounds impersonal, but it means protecting the beauty of our state, protecting the wildlife, protecting the quality of air and water, and protecting the livelihood of those who make their living from the land through ranching and farming and tourism The essence of this bill is to claim a higher level of protection for extractive and polluting uses of our resources over those who use it to grow cattle or crops, or those who use it for recreation, or those who depend on the existing quality of water and air.The example of Standing Rock is used as a reason for this bill Standing Rock was a problem because our nation’s law enforcement agencies forgot that their role is to keep the peace and instead joined with corporate mercenaries to attack almost universally peaceful protestors People without weapons or threat to use weapons were maced, attacked with flash grenades and rubber bullets, bitten by dogs and imprisoned in dog pens, power sprayed for hours with water in sub-freezing temperatures, and charged with both misdemeanors and felonies that are mostly failing to hold up in court These were mostly poor people of all ages trying to protect their land and water, but police TOOK SIDES in the protest and helped to quell it with violence Is that what we want for Wyoming? The role of the police is to keep the peace, not to violently repress free speech This bill turns our police into soldiers of corporate masters, rather than protectors of people of the state.The change that is needed in the current laws are two: 1) prohibit the use of corporate mercenaries to attack and surveil citizens of the state 2) Specify that police forces at whatever level of government are required to keep the peace, not to join corporations or other interests in attacking citizens.As for Dale Steenbergen, he needs to talk to some of the white landowners who were rolled over by Energy Transfer Their land was condemned for easements, their voice over where on their property an easement might be located was silenced, and some were actually forcefully removed from their own farms Some lost all use of a wide swath of easement through their fields, and others experienced so much degradation of their soil that they can no longer grow crops Having to mend a fence is fairly minor compared to that. Chugwater, Wyoming Reply Tammy Christel February 20, 2018 at 5:35 am # Andrew Graham, you are a great reporterI’ve shared this on Google +I feel this story resonates and should be picked up nationallyStanding Rock was an abominationAs so many have pointed out, we stole the land from Native Americans, and we punish them for peacefully demonstrating to save what little ground they have leftShame on us. Jackson, Wyoming ReplyLeave a Reply Click here to cancel reply.CommentName * Email * WebsiteCity *State of Residence *AlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareDistrict Of ColumbiaFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming Related Articles Legislature by Andrew Graham January 31, 2018 Revenue Committee kills remaining tax proposals agriculture by Angus M Thuermer Jr., Andrew Graham January 16, 2018 Supporters of $80M dam beat back funding cut Legislature by Andrew Graham Public defender: 4,191 poor could go without representation justice by Andrew Graham December 20, 2017 Immigration jail isn’t a prison, Mead’s spokesperson says Follow Wyofile Become an Underwriter Sign Up for Weekly NewslettersNever Miss a Headline. subscribe nowBoardStaffContributorsMission and HistoryOperations990 Form – 2016990 Form – 2015990 Form – 2014990 Form – 2013990 Form – 2012How to RepublishCode of EthicsSubmission Guidelines jQuery( document ).ready( function( $ ) { //Test for Cookie if($.cookie('fly') == null ) { $('.article-end').waypoint(function() { $('#text-4').animate({ right: "0" }); }); } //set cookie $('#newsletter-flyout').click(function() { $.cookie('fly', 'yes', { expires: 7000, path: "/", domain: '' }); $('#text-4').hide(); $('#text-4').addClass("displaynone"); }); $('newsletter-flyout .button').click(function() { $.cookie('fly', 'yes', { expires: 7000, path: "/", domain: ''}); $('#text-4').hide(); $('#text-4').addClass("displaynone"); }); }); Recent Posts By DateFebruary 2018MTWTFSS« Jan   12345678910111213141516171819202122232425262728 From the Archives2017 Articles 2016 Articles 2015 Articles 2014 Articles 2013 Articles 2012 Articles 2011 Articles 2010 Articles 2009 Articles 2008 Articles READ ALL About UsPeopleCareersFreelancingUnderwritingHow to RepublishSubscribeContact Us

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