National Post

U.S. terror law to be tested on pipeline activism

- Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON • U. S. representa­tives from both parties have asked the Department of Justice whether the domestic terrorism law would cover actions by protesters that shut oil pipelines last year, a move that could potentiall­y increase political rhetoric against climate change activists.

Ken Buck, a Republican representa­tive from Colorado, said in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that damaging pipeline infrastruc­ture poses risks to humans and the environmen­t.

The letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said “operation of pipeline facilities by unqualifie­d personnel could result in a rupture — the consequenc­es of which would be devastatin­g.” It was signed by 84 representa­tives, including at least two Democrats, Gene Green and Henry Cuellar, both of Texas.

The move by the l awmakers is a sign of increasing tensions between activists protesting projects including Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access Pipeline and the administra­tion of President Donald Trump, which is seeking to make the country “energy dominant” by boosting domestic oil, gas and coal output.

Last year activists in several states used bolt cutters to break fences and twisted shut valves on several cross border pipelines that sent about 2.8 million barrels per day of crude to the United States from Canada, equal to roughly 15 per cent of daily U.S. consumptio­n.

The letter asks Sessions whether existing federal laws arm the Justice Department to prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastruc­ture. It also asks whether attacks on energy infrastruc­ture that pose a threat to human life fall within the department’s understand­ing of domestic terrorism law.

The Department of Justice acknowledg­ed receiving the letter and is reviewing it, a spokesman said.

A terrorism expert said it was ironic the lawmakers referred to the law, which defines “domestic terrorism” as acts dangerous to human life intended to intimidate civilians, but does not offer a way to prosecute anyone under it. David Schanzer, a Homeland Security and terrorism expert at Duke University, said the lawmakers’ request of Sessions “won’t have any legal ramificati­ons, but possibly could be used for rhetorical value.”

A Minnesota court is considerin­g charges against several protesters suspected of turning the valves on the pipelines last year.

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