Pipeline Protesters May Face 20-Year Federal Sentence
(Bloomberg) — As Texas goes … so goes the nation?
A Trump administration proposal to strengthen criminal penalties against people who interfere with interstate pipelines may be harsher than the draconian legislation approved by Texas lawmakers last month.
Under the federal plan released Monday, protesters who block the construction of a crude or natural gas pipeline could face up to 20 years in prison. It’s one of several changes to U.S. law sought by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao as part of a periodic reauthorization of pipeline safety rules.
Current law prescribes a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for damaging or destroying an interstate pipeline. The amendment would apply that same penalty to vandalism and “disruption.”
“If the intention is to squash valid and well-meaning protests, that’s a bad regulation,” said transportation consultant Richard Kuprewicz. “The devil’s in the detail.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which regulates pipeline safety, said the proposal isn’t intended to prevent lawful protesters from exercising their first amendment rights. In a statement Tuesday, the agency said it will work with Congress to ensure any final legislation reflects that.