ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (KLFY) — Sixteen protestors and a journalist who were charged with felonies in 2018 in the midst of protests and opposition to the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in South Louisiana have been acquitted, the Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR) reports.
According to the CCR, a local district attorney in Louisiana rejected all charges and vowed not to prosecute them under Louisiana’s controversial amendments to its critical infrastructure law.
In 2018, at the urging of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, the Louisiana legislature added pipelines to the definition of critical infrastructure to significantly heighten penalties for people protesting pipeline projects. This was in the midst of opposition to and protests against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which was built by Energy Transfer Partners and is part of the same network of pipelines that includes the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Three of the people arrested and charged under La. R.S. 14:61 brought a case forward to question whether or not it’s constitutional.
White Hat v. Landry questions the constitutionality of the law, which allows the arrests or legal punishment of people who make ” intentional entry by a person without authority into any structure or onto any premises”.
The suit argues that the law is unconstitutional because it is so vague that it violates due process. It also says that Louisiana residents can’t know if they are accidentally trespassing or not because much of the 125,000 miles of the pipeline system in the state runs underground, in water, etc., and is not visible.
According to CCR’s website, three people protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on navigable waters were pulled from their kayaks and arrested by law enforcement officers moonlighting for a private security company hired by the Pipeline. This happened just days after the amendments to the “critical infrastructure” law went into effect in Louisiana on August 1, 2018.
More arrests followed over the next two months, totaling, 17 people, including a journalist covering the opposition to the pipeline project, that were arrested and charged under the law.
Cindy Spoon, one of the protestors pulled from her kayak and arrested, made the following statement:
Companies like Energy Transfer Partners and the politicians that do their bidding are trying to deter us from defending our communities from the devastating impacts of new fossil fuel infrastructure. They have tried to criminalize us and our actions since the Indigenous resistance at Standing Rock. In our cases specifically, Bayou Bridge employees and St. Martin Parish police officers acted unlawfully. They were willing to go as far as to break the law themselves to illegally arrest us. The refusal to prosecute us just proves what we already knew: these critical infrastructure laws are unconstitutional. We have the right to resist and we will not be deterred.
The CCR reported that a federal judge in Louisiana recently denied motions by a local sheriff and district attorney seeking to have the case dismissed.
The CCR’s website says in a press release, “some of the arrests were made on property where it was later found that the pipeline company was itself trespassing. In an expropriation case brought by the pipeline company, three landowners countersued for trespass and a state appellate court agreed that the company had committed a trespass and violated their rights to due process, but it was the protesters who were charged with felonies for allegedly remaining on the same property without permission.”
Laws similar to La R.S. 14:61 began being passed nationwide, starting in Oklahoma in 2017. The bill’s sponsor noted that the law was introduced in response to pipeline protests.
According to the CCR’s website, shortly after Oklahoma’s law was passed, a conservative group of lawmakers and corporate representatives known as ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, adopted model legislation based on the Oklahoma law and began pushing for adoption of the laws in many states. Legislation similar has been introduced more than 23 times in 18 states, and enacted in 15, since 2017.