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4 October 2019

Wisconsin wants “energy” trespass law with 6 year jail term

There are some stupid laws on every country’s statute books, and when we look at some suggested new laws, we can see why – vested interests sponsor new crimes, to self—protect themselves and the oil industry is no different. There is a new law being suggested by a democrat in the US, which will make it illegal to hang out near an oil pipeline. The current administration is a little crazy about pipelines, and cannot see that there is no need to build them, as the oil and gas business are going out of business in a 15 to 30 year timeframe.

The new law, if it gets passed, will make it illegal to trespass near a pipeline, with the punishment being you get to go to prison for 6 years or get a $10,000 fine or both.? It is all about Wisconsin this week, but other states have passed similar laws, and more states may adopt it.

The real reason for the law is to prevent demonstrations against pipelines by concerned citizens – so if you engage a sit-in in front of a half built pipeline, you can be arrested and not heard from again for 6 years. This is the typical response of a country that imprisons more of its own population than any other country in the world (the US has a prison population over 2 million and puts 655 people out of 10,000 in jail – the highest anywhere).

Currently the bill is working its way through the Wisconsin legislature. Its sponsors say that it is to prevent damage to private property, but the US has plentiful laws to achieve that already.

The Grist, a publication on climate change issues pointed out in its coverage of the Wisconsin law this week, that this is not new, it is in fact a trend and eight other US states have already passed similar legislation. The idea seems to have come out of the American Legislation Exchange Council, a conservative think tank bankrolled by fossil fuel companies – as the wording is often identical.

The bill starts with 2015 law which made trespassing and damaging property owned, operated or leased by an “energy provider” a felony. The new bill widens the definition to include companies operating petroleum, chemical, water and “renewable fuel” infrastructure.

Lawmakers who support the bill says it won’t restrict anyone’s ability to protest and insist the bill has nothing to do with whether you believe in climate change.

The Wisconsin bill is a little different from other states in that employees of those companies are starting to feel if they make a mistake at work they can go to prison for 6 years if that mistake is misinterpreted as sabotage.

The worry is that successful protests which have held up pipelines and the Tar sands developments, would have resulted in multiple individuals going to prison – specifically environmental activists.

The Enbridge’s tar sands pipeline going from Alberta to Wisconsin resulted in six protesters being arrested and two found guilty by a jury. Instead of 20 days in jail which they served, that might have been six years.