TEXAS - Oil & Gas "Critical Infrastructure" Anti-Protest Bills

  • Posted on: 25 March 2019
  • By: Connor Gibson

See Full Report: State Bills to Criminalize Peaceful Protest of Oil & Gas "Critical Infrastructure"

2019 TX SB 2229

  • Filed on March 8, 2019
  • Referred to Senate Resource and Economic Development Committee on March 21, 2019

ICNL Analysis:

Would revise criminal trespass and mischief law in Texas such that individuals and organizations involved in protests on infrastructure sites could be subject to harsh new penalties. The bill would create a new offense of trespass on critical infrastructure “with the intent to either damage, destroy, deface or tamper with” or the intent to “impede or inhibit the operations” of a facility. Accordingly, protesters who sought to peacefully demonstrate on a posted infrastructure facility such as a pipeline, with the intent to disrupt its operations, could be prosecuted. The offense would be a state jail felony punishable by one year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. The bill would also newly criminalize critical infrastructure mischief, defined to include defacing an infrastructure facility, and make it a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Under the bill, an organization found guilty of either offense would be subject to a fine of ten times the maximum fine imposed on an individual--i.e., $100,000 for trespass, and $1,000,000 for mischief. The bill would expand the current definition of “critical infrastructure” under Texas law to include not only facilities that are completely enclosed by fencing but also property that is posted with signs that are "reasonably likely" to be seen.

ALEC Legislators:

2019 TX SB 1993

  • Filed on March 7, 2019
  • Referred to Senate Natural Resource and Economic Development Committee on March 19, 2019

ICNL Analysis:

Would create harsh new criminal sanctions and expansive civil liability for protests near pipelines and other infrastructure facilities, including those under construction. The bill provides for two new offenses: "damage to critical infrastructure," defined to include actual damage or "intentionally or knowingly impeding, inhibiting, or interfering with the operation of" an infrastructure facility. This provision could target protests that, e.g., peacefully hinder access to pipelines or pipeline construction sites. Under the bill, “damage to critical infrastructure” is a second degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A second offense, "intent to damage critical infrastructure," is defined as entering onto infrastructure facility with intent to commit "damage," as defined above. This provision could capture peaceful protests that take place near a pipeline or other infrastructure facility regardless of whether they actually impede, inhibit, or interfere with the facility. The offense of “intent to damage critical infrastructure” is a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. The bill would make an organization that is found guilty of damage to or intent to damage critical infrastructure subject to a $1,000,000 fine. The bill creates new civil and vicarious liability for individuals and organizations related to the criminal offenses, as well. A defendant who engages in either damage or intent to damage critical infrastructure is civilly liable to the property owner, as is an organization that “compensates" a person for engaging in damage or intent to damage critical infrastructure. For both individuals and organizations, the property owner may sue for and claim actual damages, court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, and exemplary damages. The bill expands the definition of "critical infrastructure facility" to include a "facility that is being constructed and all of the equipment and appurtenances used during that construction."

ALEC Legislators:

2019 TX HB 3557

  • Filed on March 6, 2019
  • Referred to Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on March 18, 2019.
  • Scheduled for public hearing on March 25, 2019.

Analysis:

The bill proposes financial liability for individuals who damage, "deface or tamper" with critical infrastrucuture, defined to include refineries, gas compressor stations, liquified natural gas facilities, and other industrial sites. Pipelines are not specifically mentioned in the definitions of the current Texas law, as cited by HB 3557. Financial liability would also be imposed on organizations found to be compensating individuals whose behavior fits the definition of tampering with critical infrastructure. Private property owners are entitled to compensation for any damages, court fees, attorney fees, and "mental anguish" caused by the actions of an individual at a critical infrastructure site.

ALEC Legislators: