A bill that creates the crimes of conspiracy to trespass on critical infrastructure sites or damage them is one step closer to becoming law after it passed a Senate committee on Tuesday.
HB 727 by Louisiana Rep. Major Thibaut expands an existing law that prohibits trespassing on critical infrastructure like chemical plants and natural gas facilities to include pipelines and their construction sites. It also creates a new crime that would call for jail time and stiff fines for any two or more people found guilty of conspiring to trespass upon such sites or damage them.
Senate Judiciary Committee C passed the bill on Tuesday. It already passed the house on April 12 in a 97-3 vote.
The law comes as people strongly opposed to the project — and the continued proliferation of fossil-fuel infrastructure — have been monitoring Energy Transfer Partners’ Bayou Bridge pipeline construction across south Louisiana, sometimes stopping construction work in protest.
The pipeline — the second phase of a facility that currently extends from Nederlands, Texas, to Lake Charles — will extend from Lake Charles to refineries in St. James, pumping crude oil across the country from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota.
Protesters have already been arrested for trespassing at these sites, which are located on private property for which ETP subsidiary Bayou Bridge Pipeline LLC gained a right-of-way.
Aan existing law already criminalizes trespassing on critical infrastructure but does not include pipelines and their construction sites. The proposed law adds those pipeline sites to the law and hikes up the penalties, including by creating the crime of conspiracy to trespass on such properties.
The existing punishment for trespassing on that infrastructure could lead to a fine up to $1,000 or prison for up to six years, with or without hard labor. The proposed law changes the prison sentence to up to five years but creates new crimes with stiffer penalties, including criminal damage to critical infrastructure — a crime that could lead to prison with or without hard labor for between one and 15 years and a fine up to $10,000.
If human life could be threatened or the infrastructure disrupted by such damage, a person’s prison sentence could be between six and 20 years and the fine up to $25,000 plus restitution.
It also creates the new crimes of conspiracy to engage in criminal damage to critical infrastructure, as well as conspiracy to trespass on critical infrastructure, using Louisiana’s existing criminal conspiracy law in its definition for the act.
Any two or more people who conspire to trespass on the property could face prison time up to five years and a fine up to $10,000. If two or more people conspire to damage such infrastructure, they could face prison between one and 15 years and/or fines up to $100,000.
If they conspire to damage the infrastructure — and it could be interpreted that human life and/or the infrastructure is threatened — the six-to-20-year prison sentence applies, with fines up to $250,000.
Energy Transfer Partners has told KATC it supports the bill.
People opposed to it include fishermen who have long complained about rights-of-access in public waterways like the Atchafalaya Basin, which is increasingly owned by industries they say have disrupted water flow and the Basin ecosystem’s health.