MN Bill Would Allow Pipeline Company to Sue Groups Which Aid Non-Violent Protestors Who Trespass

Dakota Access Pipeline protest.

A bill introduced in the Minnesota Legislature would weaken indigenous and environmental groups advocacy work opposing the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline.

The Minnesota Pubic Utilities Commission (PUC) is expected to vote on the project in late May or early June. There is no doubt that if this pipeline is approved, there will be large protests. Line 3 would cross 337 miles of northern Minnesota, crossing the Mississippi headwaters and wild rice lakes and rivers. There will be no shortage of places to protest.

The bills, HF 3693 and SF 3463, make protestors individually liable for any property damages if they are convicted of trespass as part of a protest. Further, and significantly, the bills extend “civil and criminal liability to a group or organization that recruits, trains, aids, hires, or conspires with an individual to commit criminal trespass or damage to property … ” according to a House Research summary.

Think about Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests that happened there. Now think about Line 3 protests in Minnesota, which could take place on or near pipelines. This bill would allow Enbridge to sue groups such as Honor the Earth, the Indigenous Environmental Network, MN350, the Sierra Club and others if it believes those groups in any way aided the protestors. (Note: If church leaders participate in a protest, those churches could get sued, too.)

The bill applies to protests at “critical infrastructure,” such as airports, railroads, utilities, or oil and gas pipelines. The bill would apply to situations such as the 2015 Black Lives Matter protest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (Story here.) That said, the bill’s timing suggests it is related to the PUC’s pending vote on Enbridge Line 3.

The bills chief authors are Rep. Dennis Smith (R), Maple Grove and Sen. Paul Utke (R) of Park Rapids. In the House, the bill already has passed out of one committee and now sits in the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. In the Senate, the bill is still in the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, where it was initially referred.

Just the threat of a lawsuit could lead groups to be overly cautious and restrict their advocacy.

In related news, the Star Tribune reported on lobbying costs in the state for the year 2017; Enbridge Energy Partners led the list, dwarfing “the usual big spenders by doling out $5.3 million, nearly all of which was used to influence the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, according to data released Tuesday.”

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