CLAIM: Citing free speech and assembly, Congressional Democrats are criticizing a Department of Transportation proposal to promote pipeline safety while cracking down on violent and illegally disruptive protests of pipeline construction projects.
“This provision is a clear infringement on the basic right of speech and assembly and a poorly veiled effort to undermine the ability of Native and Indigenous communities to advocate for themselves and their tribal lands,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said in a statement, as reported by Politico.
A spokesman for House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone claims the legislative proposal would be “used as a vehicle for stifling legitimate dissent and protest.”
The legislative proposal, introduced Monday by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, would do nothing to threaten First Amendment-protected protests, including the right to free speech and assembly. Instead, it is clearly aimed at illegal activities targeting pipelines, construction projects and workers:
“This provision would strengthen the existing criminal penalty measures for damaging or destroying a pipeline facility. It would specify that vandalism, tampering with, or impeding, disrupting, or inhibiting the operation of a pipeline facility are punishable by criminal fines and imprisonment. It would also specify that pipeline facilities under construction are included within the scope of the damage prohibitions in addition to operational pipeline facilities.”
This would align federal law with legislative activity in multiple states, including Texas, Missouri, and South Dakota.
Why are these state and federal laws needed? Consider:
- Activists set a dozen fires on a public highway while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.
- Activists in Florida crawled into a pipeline under construction and chained themselves together.
- Activists are increasingly trespassing to turn off valves on pipelines, disrupting the flow of oil or natural gas and potentially causing “death, injury, and economic and environmental harm,” according to federal officials.
Those who oppose pipelines are free and encouraged to voice their opposition to the projects. The federal proposal, like those in Statehouses across the country, is designed to crack down on those who engage in illegal activities at critical infrastructure projects.