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ND Bill Would Hide Oil Pipeline Records, Opponents Say

Since the Standing Rock protests in 2016, legislatures in 35 states have considered bills that would restrict people's right to protest. (Becker1999/Flickr)
Since the Standing Rock protests in 2016, legislatures in 35 states have considered bills that would restrict people's right to protest. (Becker1999/Flickr)
February 15, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – Critics are concerned a measure in the North Dakota Legislature could block attempts to expose abuse of protesters by law enforcement and private companies.

Senate Bill 2209 would bar disclosure of records on security plans for public or private entities, including "critical infrastructure," such as fossil fuel pipeline companies.

Jeffrey Haas, a civil-rights attorney and board member of the Water Protector Legal Collective, says the bill is overly broad and would have made it impossible to uncover the connection between law enforcement and Dakota Access Pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners.

"They certainly had a lot riding on the pipeline, so we felt like we had a right to know what Energy Transfer Partners' connection was to law enforcement," Hass explains. "This would block us from getting that information, from the security agencies or the corporation doing the pipeline."

Haas says Freedom of Information Act requests were key to exposing abuses against Standing Rock protesters by law enforcement and the company in charge of pipeline security, TigerSwan.

Sponsors of the bill say it's needed to protect places like schools, so that building evacuation procedures aren't open records, for instance.

SB 2209 has passed in the Senate and was introduced in the House this week.

Haas says if security information is kept from the public, it could provide cover for private companies to abuse their roles without North Dakotans knowing. He says this bill is part of a nationwide wave of legislation to impose more penalties on protesters.

"People concerned about the environment, about water, are opposed to that,” says Hass. “So, they're trying to criminalize and sometimes put stigmas of terrorism on people who want to stop this pipeline expansion."

Another bill in the North Dakota Legislature would heighten penalties for protests near so-called "critical infrastructure," like pipelines. According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, 35 states have considered laws to restrict the right to protest since the Standing Rock protests in 2016.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND