Oil lobbyists tout success criminalizing protests of oil and gas infrastructure

In an audio recording obtained by The Intercept, the group concedes that it has been playing a role behind the scenes in crafting laws recently passed in states across the country to criminalize oil and gas pipeline protests, in response to protests over the Dakota Access pipeline. The laws make it a crime to trespass on public land used for “critical infrastructure,” impose a fine or prison time for violators, and hold protesters responsible for damage incurred during the protest. Many of the laws also carry heavy fines to groups and individuals who support such demonstrations.

By Lee Fang, The Intercept, August 19 2019

THE AMERICAN FUEL & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a powerful lobbying group that represents major chemical plants and oil refineries, including Valero Energy, Koch Industries, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Marathon Petroleum, has flexed its muscle over environmental and energy policy for decades. Despite its reach, AFPM channels dark money and influence with little scrutiny.

The group is now leveraging its political power to criminalize protests of oil and gas infrastructure.

In an audio recording obtained by The Intercept, the group concedes that it has been playing a role behind the scenes in crafting laws recently passed in states across the country to criminalize oil and gas pipeline protests, in response to protests over the Dakota Access pipeline. The laws make it a crime to trespass on public land used for “critical infrastructure,” impose a fine or prison time for violators, and hold protesters responsible for damage incurred during the protest. Many of the laws also carry heavy fines to groups and individuals who support such demonstrations.

The trade group, which was founded in 1902, has long played an outsized role in shaping policy disputes. Last year, AFPM and its members mobilized over $30 million to defeat the carbon tax proposed in Washington State, easily outspending an environmentalist campaign funded by philanthropist billionaires and small donors.

In June, Derrick Morgan, a senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at AFPM, spoke at the Energy & Mineral Law Foundation conference in Washington, D.C., explaining the role his trade group has played in criminalizing protests. AFPM did not respond to a request for comment.

James G. Flood, a partner with law firm Crowell & Moring’s lobbying practice, introduced Morgan as “intimately involved” in crafting model legislation that has been distributed to state lawmakers around the country. The attendees at the event received copies of the model bill, called the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, distributed through the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit that serves as a nexus for corporate lobbyists to author template legislation that is then sponsored by state lawmakers affiliated with ALEC.

When the template legislation went out to hundreds of ALEC member legislators, it was accompanied with a letter of support from AFPM and others, first reported by HuffPost. The ALEC task force that developed the legislation also included representatives from AFPM.

“So you see that, and you’re reading the materials as well, that this model legislation would itemize criminal trespass and also a liability for folks that cause damage during protest,” Morgan said, citing the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota.

“Another key aspect of it,” Morgan continued, “which you also include, is inspiring organizations — so organizations who have ill intent, want to encourage folks to damage property and endanger lives — they are also held liable.”

The legislative text Morgan described has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in nine states: Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

ANY EFFORT TO sabotage pipeline infrastructure is already a federal crime. The AFPM-backed bills expand the purview of law enforcement, classifying peaceful protests that seek to block the construction of pipelines as a violent threat.

For instance, the Oklahoma variation of the law, which copies much of the template legislation, creates fines of at least $10,000, and imprisons, for up to a year, demonstrators who have shown the “intent” to have trespassed to damage or in any way disrupt an infrastructure facility. Those convicted of damaging or disrupting infrastructure face a minimum of 10 years in prison, as well as much as $100,000 in fines.


A presentation slide from the Energy & Mineral Law Foundation conference, featuring oil and gas industry model legislation.

Image: Provided to The Intercept

The Oklahoma bill, signed by then-Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017 also levels fines for organizations found to have been “conspiring” with perpetrators, with penalties of 10 times the fines paid by perpetrators. This suggests advocacy groups linked to protesters could be fined from $100,000 to $1 million.

In Iowa, the legislation, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds this year, creates penalties of $85,000 to $100,000 for those convicted of sabotaging critical infrastructure, which the law defines broadly as any interruption to a variety of services.

South Dakota’s version of the critical infrastructure protest law creates civil penalties for “riot boosting,” which the law signed by Gov. Kristi Noem, defines as anyone who “directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot.”

The version of the model legislation enacted in Iowa, says Daniel Zeno, ACLU of Iowa Policy Director, “has the potential to chill environmental protest, punish public participation, and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment.” The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit against the South Dakota version of the bill, and is monitoring how the bill will be enforced in other states to ensure free speech rights aren’t curtailed.

As The Intercept has previously reported, the Pennsylvania version of the pipeline protest legislation, proposed this year, would require demonstrators to reimburse the cost of policing the demonstration. The bill defines demonstrations as “a political rally or event, a demonstration, speech making, the holding of vigils or religious services and all other forms of conduct the primary purpose of which is expressive activity or expression of views or grievances.”

In his remarks, Morgan cited the costs associated with dealing with the Dakota Access pipeline as the impetus for the lobbying push. “We’ve seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017,” Morgan said. “We’re up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet.”

AFPM also financed a variety of pro-pipeline advocacy groups to build the appearance of public support for the projects, particularly Keystone XL, and was highly involved in the fight over DAPL.

The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support. In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, “We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.” The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session.

LOBBYING DISCLOSURE STANDARDS vary by state, but evidence suggests AFPM and its member companies have played a direct hand in getting bills passed, moved along through committees, and signed into law.

In Missouri, the witness list in support of the pipeline protest bill lists Peter Barnes, AFPM’s state and local outreach manager. The Cheyenne office of law firm of Holland & Hart reportedly crafted the pipeline protest bill proposed in Wyoming on behalf of AFPM and provided the text for a local GOP lawmaker to introduce, according to a local news story.

Emails obtained by the investigative journalism nonprofit Documented show efforts by the oil and gas lobby to pressure Oklahoma’s governor to sign the pipeline protest legislation. In one email, an assistant to the governor relays a message from Valero lobbyist Julie Klumpyan, noting that she had left a message urging Fallin to sign the bill. “They think it will help deter vandalism & disruptive actions,” wrote the assistant. Valero is a prominent member of AFPM.

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U.S. Seen as Climate Risk With Two-Thirds of New Oil and Gas

By Alex Nussbaum, Bloomberg, August 20, 2019

  •  ‘Staggering’ forecast makes U.S. climate risk: Global Witness
  •  Surge would be 40 times new Russian output, 20 times Saudi

The U.S. will account for for almost two-thirds of the world’s new oil and natural gas output in the decade ahead, making it a critical obstacle to stopping climate pollution, a London-based advocacy group says.

Propelled by the shale boom, the U.S. will pump out the equivalent of 88.9 billion barrels of oil from new fields in the 2020s, Global Witness, an environmental and human rights group, said in a report Tuesday that cites data from industry consultant Rystad Energy.

The U.S. is set to generate 20 times more new oil and gas than Russia and 40 times that of Saudi Arabia, Global Witness said. Texas — home to the Permian and Eagle Ford shale basins — will surpass all countries for new output, with Pennsylvania, New Mexico, North Dakota and three other states also sharing the top ten of new production along with Canada, Brazil and Russia.

“The U.S. is doubling down on fossil fuels with a boom in oil and gas production that puts a safe climate at risk,” Murray Worthy, a senior campaigner with the group, said in an email statement. “The scale of new production forecast from the U.S. is staggering, no other country comes even close.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-20/u-s-to-pump-two-thirds-of-world-s-new-oil-and-gas-in-2020s


The Hill: GOP Oversight report says Interior head met with group tied to former clients

BY REBECCA BEITSCH – 08/22/19  6094

GOP Oversight report says Interior head met with group tied to former clients

© Greg Nash

Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee released a report Thursday examining Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s calendar and alleged conflicts of interest in an effort to counter an ongoing investigation by Democrats.

But the report appears to confirm Bernhardt met with a group he recused himself from dealing with as part of his ethics pledge.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee have yet to release a report, but Republicans launched their own probe after they said Democrats launched an investigation without consulting them and issued an “unprecedented and overbroad initial document request.”Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for a number of oil and gas companies, has been under fire from Democrats and environmental groups since joining the Trump administration as deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior (DOI). Democrats argue his background leaves him with a wealth of conflicts of interest, and have accused him of violating public records laws with how he manages his calendar.

The GOP report lists a number of findings, the majority of which state that, “contrary to allegations,” Bernhardt is not mismanaging his calendar, obfuscating meetings or violating ethics laws. Republicans instead accused Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of using “cherry-picked information to create a false impression” about transparency at Interior.

“This interim staff report sets the record straight about the allegations levied against Bernhardt and DOI. The record is clear that contrary to public allegations of wrongdoing, DOI and Bernhardt have acted appropriately and ethically in maintaining and preserving the Secretary’s calendar records, as well as making them publicly available,” the GOP report said.

But Bernhardt’s critics say the report shows he took meetings with former clients.

One part of the report aims to dissect a meeting of interest to Democrats involving Bernhardt and nine oil and gas companies.

That included the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association (LMOGA), a division of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association (USOGA).

“LMOGA appears to have an association to an entity on Bernhardt’s recusal list, U.S. Oil and Gas Association, but it does not appear that this association would require a recusal in all circumstances,” the report said.

Aaron Weiss with the Center for Western Priorities, which has criticized Bernhardt’s ethics record, said the secretary should not meet with a division of a group on his recusal list.

“They don’t ‘appear to have an affiliation’ — they are part of USOGA,” Weiss said. “They are on Bernhardt’s recusal list.”

A spokesperson for Interior said another oil company, Statoil, did not attend the meeting because of advice from Interior ethics officials.

“Secretary Bernhardt is and always has been committed to upholding his ethical responsibilities, and he takes his ethics pledge very seriously. He seeks advice from career ethics officials before taking any meeting involving external parties and strictly follows their advice and guidance,” a spokesman for the agency told The Hill.

The Hill has reached out to Oversight Republicans for further comment on the LMOGA meeting.

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee did not respond to request for comment, but Oversight Democrats say the report from their Republican colleagues left many questions unanswered.

“The Republican Staff Report provides cover for the Trump Administration’s secrecy. The Committee still has unanswered questions about who Secretary David Bernhardt met with, when, and why. The Committee is also concerned about how the Department maintains records of Secretary Bernhardt’s meetings, as well as its compliance with FOIA, which remains a serious problem,” Cummings said in a statement to The Hill.

Interior has been under fire for a number of actions critics say make the department less transparent, from a public records policy that would give political hires more influence over what documents are released to leaving controversial meetings off of Bernhardt’s public calendar.

Interior previously outlined how meeting requests would be vetted by ethics officials before being added to the schedule on a Google document. Some meetings were added to the public calendar, but others were placed on “daily cards” used to outline Bernhardt’s schedule.

“Bernhardt’s calendars are not created to be public documents, but instead used as an internal method of allocating his time,” the report said.

House Democrats have questioned whether the method violates public record-keeping laws, but Interior said an outside review found the process did not result is destruction of federal records.

“We are pleased the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) found the Department of the Interior to be in full compliance with records management laws. We appreciate their thorough and professional review in response to Congressional inquiries,” Interior told The Hill in July.

The GOP report includes high praise for Bernhardt, saying he “is improving the ‘anemic’ ethics environment of the Obama administration” and repeatedly lists witness testimony saying Bernhardt has not violated ethics or public record keeping laws.

Weiss said the report cherry-picks interviews and hopes that all of them will be released publicly.

“This is truly a ridiculous document that reads like it was written by Bernhardt himself,” he said.