Do you think Charles Koch sees himself as the protagonist in his very own Ayn Rand novel?
Maybe he’s Hank Rearden, facing down the rampaging hordes of one-size-fits-all rent-seeking leftists common to Rand’s oeuvre. Except, unlike in Rand’s novels, the United States government is basically another tool used by private industry to brush aside the will of the people.
Let’s consider, for example, the case of Standing Rock, North Dakota.
Climate activists have attempted to stop pipeline construction with massive displays of civil disobedience. Now they’re going to have to consider other tactics, because the government has effectively made it illegal to protest.
Isn’t that against the first amendment? You bet.
And the republicans aren’t done either. They’ve put forward laws criminalizing protests that disrupt the construction and operation of pipelines in at least 18 states since 2017.
Here’s a friendly listicle courtesy of The Guardian:
- Seven states have passed laws that ratchet up the penalties for activists protesting or even planning protests of oil and gas pipelines and other “critical infrastructure”
- At least six more states are considering such laws
- In each case, misdemeanors are elevated to felonies, and criminal and civil punishments are escalated drastically
- The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights have mounted challenges against such laws in Louisiana and South Dakota.)
These laws are supposed to criminalize violence and property damage, but their broad reach includes demonstrating near pipelines, chemical plants and other infrastructure. It’s awfully difficult to protest something you can’t get close too with any efficacy. The proposed punishments aren’t exactly fines for misdemeanours either; in most effected states, these protests are now felonies with real jail time attached.
“Oil refiners, especially Koch Industries and Marathon Petroleum, orchestrated this unholy alliance of oil, gas, chemical, and electric utility companies to crush resistance to polluting industries,” said Connor Gibson, an investigator with Greenpeace who has tracked the efforts.
The industry wants to paint these efforts as necessary to counter the tactics of activists, which include obstructing traffic, peacefully stalling production, and videotaping confrontations with police for posting on social media.
“There is nothing more important to the fuel and petrochemical industries than the safety of our people, our communities and our facilities — and willful, disruptive and dangerous interference with critical infrastructure puts that safety at risk. Our advocacy is intended to protect public safety and private property, not chill First Amendment rights, which don’t entitle a person to destroy property or create public hazards,” the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers said in a statement.
Bills have been passed in both North and South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas that criminalize trespassing near oil pipelines, gas processing equipment and other “critical infrastructure,” and these carry felony charges and a potential five-year maximum prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. This legislation was endorsed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is backed by the Snidely Whiplash of American oil, the Charles Koch Institute.
Not to be outdone, the Trump administration couldn’t possibly let himself be out-eviled by the surviving Koch brother, so he’s doing what he can to curtail the power of individual states to block energy projects, while considering the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration’s request to allow 20-year prison sentences for “damaging or destroying” pipelines.
A Canadian oil problem
We can afford to be smug up here in Canada, sipping our mid-day coffees while we watch the United States systematically dismantle their democracy because it gets in the way of profits, but not for long. It won’t be long and protesting will be on the block up here as well.
The ongoing fracas over oil pipelines is too contentious to be an election year topic, so the political types relegate it to the issues back burner, behind Justin Trudeau’s blackface incidents and Andrew Scheer being a homophobic asshole who’s committed the crime of being half-American.
But here’s what Justin Trudeau had to say in 2012 about Canadian oil when elections weren’t even on the horizon:
“No country in the world would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there.”
It speaks volumes, doesn’t it?
Maybe when the election season’s over and the pipeline protests begin again, we should pay attention to which companies aren’t lobbying to take away our rights. If there are any. Just a thought.