How To Save Free Speech and Our Louisiana Environment

How To Save Free Speech And Our Louisiana Environment

Charles Metcalf Jr, 09/06/2018

On August 1, 2018, a new state law targeting anti-pipeline protesters went into effect in Louisiana. The law declares pipelines and associated work equipment to be “critical infrastructure” along with water treatment plants and the power grid and makes trespassing on pipeline construction sites a serious crime, even if these sites are on private land where the landowners have given permission for people to gather. “Disrupting” a pipeline’s “operations” could land you in prison for up to 20 years. The law is clearly aimed at the Water Protectors in Louisiana, many of whom are part of local indigenous communities, who routinely bring construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline to a temporary halt with colorful — and peaceful — acts of civil disobedience. The law essentially repeals the First Amendment, which guarantees American citizens the right of peaceful assembly.

In April 2018, state representative Major Thibaut (D, LA18, New Roads), introduced HB 727, a bill titled “Provides relative to unauthorized entry of and criminal damage to a critical infrastructure.” The bill was cosponsored overwhelmingly by Republican lawmakers, but also by Democratic state representatives John Anders (LA-21, Vidalia), Robert Billiot (LA-83, Westwego), Mike Danahay (LA-33, Sulphur), Bernard LeBas (LA-38, Ville Platte), Barbara Norton (LA-03, Shreveport), and state senators Gerald Boudreaux (LA-24, Lafayette), Eric LaFleur (LA-28, Ville Platte), and Francis Thompson (LA-34, Delhi).

In May 2018, the finalized bill and amendments changing the language to further specify critical infrastructure, passed the state senate with a 31-4 vote (another 4 senators were absent), and then passed the state house with a 88-1 vote (15 representatives were absent).

The legislation was supported and pushed by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” legislation, one of which titled “The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” has been used to write state legislation around the country, including Louisiana’s HB 727.

A quick look at the donor lists of Louisiana state legislators shows a lot of campaign money coming from the same corporations that partner with ALEC, including Koch Industries and big oil and natural gas companies. Corporations that stand to make a huge profit off of these sorts of pipelines, at the expense of our local people and wildlife, have bought influence within our state legislature, giving them a voice much louder than the actual citizens. HB 727 is the sort of legislation that keeps corporate interests happy, and keep donations and other perks flowing to state lawmakers. It was signed into law by Democratic governor John Bel Edwards, who has supported ALEC-engineered Right Wing legislation for years, and recently addressed an ALEC conference in New Orleans.

This law directly impacts indigenous water protectors fighting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a crude oil pipeline being built by Energy Transfer Partners through our Atchafalaya Basin. The pipeline is being built across 170 miles of Southeast Louisiana, including the Atchafalaya Basin, America’s largest river basin swamp. The pipeline will directly impact 600 acres of Louisiana’s disappearing wetlands, threaten nearly 700 waterbodies, and jeopardize the drinking water sources of over 300,000 people. and will have serious, unintended consequences for Louisiana landowners, fishers and hunters.

Energy Transfer Partners has a horrible track record, with its pipelines spilling once every 11 days, on average. ETP was brought into the spotlight due to its Dakota Access Pipeline which was opposed by the indigenous communities whose land and water it threatened. The Dakota Access Pipeline spilled 4 times in 2017. This bill would have made the Standing Rock protests largely illegal.

It was warned this legislation would have drastic consequences for all Louisiana citizens. There are thousands of miles of pipelines cross-cutting Louisiana’s wetlands, private property, and public waterways. Fishers and farmers cross industry pipelines on a daily basis – this legislation puts them at risk of felony conviction for simple trespass. Landowners who have had property expropriated through eminent domain could unintentionally damage a pipeline on their private property and risk a felony conviction. These harsh punishments put everyday Louisianans at risk of serious, life-altering charges.

The responsibility of our state legislators is to protect the interests and freedoms of their constituents, not corporations. Water protectors engaging in peaceful protest, as well as members of the press, have not only been arrested, but have been physically assaulted by police and private security, most recently on private land in St Martinville Parish where they were given permission to protest by the land owner. This is an assault on our civil liberties, our environment, and our faith in our government as representative of the people.

What Louisiana needs, now more than ever, is a new crop of state legislators. People with integrity and heart, who are uncorrupted by corporate influence. People who put the interests of the community and the environment above the apathetic capitalist machinations of organizations like ALEC and the corporations and lawmakers who benefit from them.

I have detailed previously the process of running for state legislature. How average citizens can take back our state government from the greedy privileged few. It’s not enough to simply flip the state blue. We must swing it to the Left. We must eradicate the corporate stranglehold on our beloved state. We can fix this. We MUST fix this. So that future generations may be able to enjoy the natural beauty of Louisiana without the shadow of greed and corruption lingering over them.

For more info on how to help support the Water Protectors on the ground in Louisiana, please visit, donate, and find out how to volunteer at http://www.nobbp.org

To contact your state officials in the state legislature with concerns about this important issue, find their contact info senate.louisiana.gov and house.louisiana.gov

To register to vote and make your voice heard at the ballot box visit geauxvote.com

Sources for information used in this post:

HB 727 to criminalize Bayou Bridge protests supported by ALEC, contributions from companies connected to project

https://truthout.org/articles/under-louisiana-bill-peaceful-protesters-could-face-20-years-in-prison/

https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/legislature/article_a8504694-9b51-11e8-bcb4-137c26a5fe9f.html

 

 

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