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WV Bill Would Criminalize Peaceful Environmental Protests

Members of Appalachians Against Pipelines protest against the Mountain View Pipeline in West Virginia in 2018. (Appalachians Against Pipelines/Facebook)
Members of Appalachians Against Pipelines protest against the Mountain View Pipeline in West Virginia in 2018. (Appalachians Against Pipelines/Facebook)
February 14, 2020

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Environmental groups spoke out this week against a West Virginia House of Delegates bill that would make peaceful protests against pipelines and other "key infrastructure" into criminal acts.

They believe the law would not only impede on First Amendment rights, but could also destroy environmental groups in the state.

Neal Laferriere, co-chair of the Sierra Club in West Virginia, explains that they would face penalties if any of their supporters are arrested in a demonstration.

"This is an affront to the fact that our state legislation, and its legislators and senators, are willing to protect out-of-state corporations, but they're not willing to protect us," says Laferriere.

Republican supporters of the bill insist it doesn't inhibit anyone's First Amendment rights and believe it would protect important or sensitive property from what they see as illegal interference.

The timing of the bill is significant. It coincides with a critical turning point for the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline, being built across more than 300 miles in West Virginia and Virginia.

In October, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered a stop to all construction on the pipeline until questions about the project's impact on endangered species can be resolved. Also, two federal permits were suspended after legal challenges.

Laferriere says the company is pushing to get those permits back in time to complete the pipeline by the end of the year.

"I think that they're really concerned that there is going to be a lot more protesting and a lot more people standing in their way," says Laferriere. "And I think that that's the push behind this is, they're worried that the protesting is going to become even more amplified and cause more issues."

A number of states began introducing "critical infrastructure" bills after the protests at Standing Rock in 2017. If passed, West Virginia would join South Dakota, North Dakota and three other states that have enacted anti-protest bills in the past three years.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, West Virginia Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV