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Iowa Pipeline Opponents Face Tough Penalties Under New "Sabotage" Law

Iowans who interfere with oil or natural gas pipelines now face some of the harshest penalties in the nation. (
Iowans who interfere with oil or natural gas pipelines now face some of the harshest penalties in the nation. (
April 23, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa — Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline are still awaiting federal and Iowa Supreme Court rulings in a case over the controversial project, but any new actions against pipelines could land them in prison for 25 years.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the "Sabotage" legislation, Senate File 2235, last week. The law imposes some of the harshest penalties in the nation for criminal acts against "critical infrastructure."

Carolyn Raffensperger, chair of the Iowa Sierra Club, said critical infrastructure has historically applied to public lines that transport electricity, gas and water.

"The bill is particularly dangerous because it slips in the idea that a crude oil pipeline owned by a massive corporation not even located in Iowa is critical infrastructure,” Raggensperger said.

Supporters of the new law say it's not intended to impede legal, peaceful and legitimate protests, but rather targets such things as terrorist threats. The legislation followed acts of arson and vandalism against the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in millions of dollars in damages.

The bill was put forward by Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. Raffensperger said the Iowa law is designed to discourage dissent against new pipelines, even if opponents fear for the safety of their drinking water.

"They are trying to take away the ability to give or withhold consent from something that threatens a basic necessity of life - drinking water,” he said.

The pipeline cuts through 18 counties and was opposed by environmentalists and some farmers who objected to the use of eminent domain to obtain access to their land. Raffensperger worries the new law will permit more corporations to claim critical infrastructure status and use eminent domain to change property from private to common.

"So it's one thing to take private land and build a road or add it to a national park,” Raffensperger said, “but to take it and give it to a private corporation is undermining that power to move private property into the common."

The new law makes the crime of critical infrastructure sabotage a Class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison and a fine of between $85,000 and $100,000.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA