The way things are looking, if there is any to be had, climate action from the next Congress will come in the form of an infrastructure package. Neil Bradley said during a press briefing that the US Chamber of Commerce would be open to an “emphasis on climate change” in a lame duck stimulus bill, but history suggests such statements be taken with one grain of salt for every dollar they’ve spent blocking climate action.
Even if they are serious about climate-friendly infrastructure, it's important to remember that industry claims natural gas is “clean” and good for the climate. What the Chamber could be signaling an openness to is building a whole bunch of gas pipelines.
So it might be smart to start stretching those pipeline protest muscles many in the climate community built up fighting Keystone XL, DAPL, and other pipelines around the country
The fossil fuel industry hasn’t forgotten Standing Rock. Instead, it went to work. Not to clean up its act, but instead to criminalize anti-pipeline protests.
A new report, Muzzling Dissent, by Gabrielle Colchete and Basav Sen from the Institute for Policy Studies, tracks how pipeline companies and ALEC have pushed the politicians to squash protests by designating pipelines as “Critical Infrastructure.”
The original concept of “Critical Infrastructure Protection” was a response to the Oklahoma City bombing, and became much more of a priority after 9/11. But by 2003 lobbyists backed by BP and Dupont included fossil fuel infrastructure in a CIP guide meant for government officials. In doing so, corporate interests successfully turned a tool for protecting Americans from terrorist attacks into something to protect industry from American activists.
“In these instances,” Colchete and Sen write, “‘Critical Infrastructure’ is not only a euphemism for pipeline polluters that extract resources from surrounding communities for private interests, but it is also a dog-whistle that conflates local opposition with terrorism. In practice, these laws only serve to protect the corporate polluters’ interests and fossil fuel infrastructure, while threatening the constitutional rights of local opposition who ironically view them as unlawful threats to their communities.”
The report provides case studies of these anti-protest laws in Louisiana, Minnesota and West Virginia, where pipeline protests prompted polluters to donate to conservative politicians, who in turn pushed forward versions of ALEC's model legislation criminalizing protests. Energy PACs, the Kochs, ExxonMobil, and the rest poured money into local and state-wide campaigns, for politicians who just so happen to believe that the First Amendment protects the right to protest except when you're protesting fossil fuel projects.
And then, like there nearly always is, there’s racism and classism at work as well. By examining the census tracts of the land that the Bayou Bridge (Louisiana), Line 3 (Minnesota) and Mountain Valley (West Virginia) pipelines go through, the researchers can “reveal that these controversial projects are all built in close proximity to marginalized communities, namely communities of color and communities with high poverty rates.”
Classifying oil and gas pipelines as critical infrastructure privileges these privately-owned projects over the Tribal sovereignty, human rights and free speech of the people and nations most harmed by their construction. So far, it is working because it fits easily within this country’s long history of using bureaucratic and legal tricks to silence Indigenous, Black, working-class and poor communities in the name of profit.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Colchete and Sen offer ways to push back, like enacting a “Protest Bill of Rights” to head off these legal attacks, cutting down on the influence of corporate campaign donations, ramping up the power of federal regulatory safeguards, and making sure environmental assessments prioritize environmental justice.
Better get started quick though. The early signs are emerging that if anything’s going to be coming down the political pipeline in a divided DC, it might just be pipelines.
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