Proposed South Dakota bill would block funded anti-pipeline and Keystone protests

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem announced she is proposing legislation before construction begins on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would create a way to go after out-of-state money that funds pipeline protests. The legislation would let the state follow such money and “cut it off at the source,” the Republican Governor said in a statement, and a fund would be created to cover extraordinary law enforcement costs that could come with intense pipeline opposition.

The proposed legislation comes after opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. The state spent tens of millions of dollars policing the protests. The 1,900 kilometre pipeline is intended to ship up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines to carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Last month, the developer of the Dakota Access pipeline sued the environmental group Greenpeace in North Dakota. Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) accused the group and activists of conspiring to use illegal and violent means to disrupt construction and benefited from the ensuing publicity to increase donations. Greenpeace said the company is trying to silence peaceful advocacy, and though a judge tossed the ETP claim out of federal court, but the company is pursuing similar claims in state court.

Governor Noem’s office said her bills arose from discussions with lawmakers, authorities, stakeholders, and pipeline developer TransCanada, adding “I’m a supporter of property rights, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. We should celebrate differences of opinion. But here in South Dakota, we will have the rule of law, because rioters do not control economic development in our state.

Officials have already changed state law in anticipation of Keystone XL protests. In 2017, they made it a Class 1 misdemeanour for someone to stand in the highway to stop traffic or to trespass in a posted emergency area. That was a scaled-back version of a bill championed by then-Governor Dennis Daugaard amid concerns about large demonstrations similar to the Dakota Access protests. A federal judge in Montana in February largely kept in place an injunction that blocks TransCanada from performing preliminary work on the stalled pipeline.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha wrote that the company appreciates the Governor’s efforts to help advance the construction of Keystone XL and other pipelines in a way that ensures the safety of workers and state residents, saying, “Any legislation that deters unlawful activities and encourages the advancement of critical infrastructure projects is a positive step in the right direction.