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Local bill aimed at protesters could hit home for some Oklahoma environmentalists

Trans-Canada pipeline in Cushing, Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY – As environmental activists continue to look at ways to spread their message, an Oklahoma lawmaker hopes to put punishments in place for trespassers who try to impede or damage energy sites.

In recent weeks, activists have become increasingly concerned about the environment following recent decisions by the Trump administration.

President Trump nominated former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency his office sued more than a dozen times.

In January, President Trump signed an executive order that moved forward with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline.

The proposed Dakota Access Pipeline would transport 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota to Illinois, but was met with protests from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe says the pipeline could disturb sacred historical sites on their reservation and pollute their water.

Following months of protests, the project was put on hold until the executive order was signed.

Last week, the protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline site were forced to leave their camps as cleanup efforts began.

The battle between Native American history and the energy industry is not only in North Dakota. Oklahoma environmental groups and Native Americans have spoken out against crude oil pipelines crossing through the Sooner State.

“We cannot continue to rely on fossil fuels as a primary energy source. It’s not, the climate can’t take it. Our air can’t take it. The water cannot take the contamination,” Casey Holcomb, with the Oklahoma Sierra Club, told NewsChannel 4. “We have to move immediately to invest in clean energy, renewable energy.”

In fact, the Ponca Nation and Bold Oklahoma were protesting against the proposed Diamond Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Cushing to Memphis, Tennessee.

However, a proposed bill that is being considered by Oklahoma lawmakers would make protests near energy sites illegal.

House Bill 1123 makes it illegal for a person to trespass or enter property “containing critical infrastructure facility without permission by the owner of the property.”

The bill defines a ‘critical infrastructure facility’ as a petroleum or alumina refinery, electrical power substation or power lines, a chemical manufacturing facility, water treatment facility, wastewater treatment plant, natural gas compressor station, liquid natural gas terminal, telecommunications central switching office, cell towers or telephone poles, railroad tracks, gas processing plant, radio or television transmission facility, steelmaking facility or a dam that is regulated by the government.

It also lists pipeline interconnections, natural gas storage facility, crude oil or refined products storage and distribution facilities, and above ground piping for oil, gas, hazardous liquid or chemical pipelines.

Trespassing would lead to a $1,000 or imprisonment for up to six months.

However, the consequences get worse if the trespasser meant to “damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment, or impede or inhibit operations of the facility.” In that case, the trespasser would face a fine of not less than $10,000 or imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for up to one year.

The bill states that if the trespasser succeeded in damaging, destroying, vandalizing, defacing or tampering with equipment, they could face a fine up to $100,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years.

It goes on to state that if an organization is conspiring with the trespasser, the organization “shall be punished by a fine that is ten times the amount of said fine authorized by the appropriate provision of this section.”

The bill recently passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives 68-25.