WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a report released today by the GAIN Coalition, legal experts explain that anti-pipeline protesters can be held legally accountable under tort law over their illicit efforts to force banks into breaking financing contracts with pipeline developers. The report entitled “Vigilante Regulation: When Anti-Pipeline Activism Becomes Tortious Interference” analyzes the latest efforts by environmental activists to hinder energy infrastructure development through tortious interference, the negative impacts on the energy industry and financial institutions, and outlines legal options available to address illegal protest tactics. The report was written by Phil Goldberg, Jamie Thompson, and Dalton Mott.
“We certainly respect the First Amendment and the right to protest – but there is a legitimate process to address these concerns and we encourage all stakeholders to take an active role in that process.” said GAIN Coalition spokesman Craig Stevens. “This report brings much-needed attention to the unlawful tactics anti-energy protesters utilize against permitted infrastructure projects. Too often, protesters turn to methods outside the regulatory process and the rule of law – like pressuring banks to break contracts that fund energy infrastructure.”
Anti-energy protesters recently have been targeting private banks in an attempt to pressure them into breaching their existing contractual obligations to fund pipeline construction. These tactics are unlawful, and, as this report explains, tort law can hold people accountable when they tortiously interfere with such valid contractual relations. If a pipeline developer has a financing contract with a bank breached as a result of improper protesting activity, the company can file a claim for tortious interference against the activists who caused the breach, according to the authors of the report.
“Allowing vigilante regulation to go unchecked undermines our democracy. We honor civil protests in this country, but we should not have to accept improper efforts to overturn the rule of law. Pipelines are carefully scrutinized, including for environmental concerns and with significant public input. When government approvals are finalized, the decisions must be accepted as part of our orderly society, not become triggers for the unlawful obstruction of property interests and economic rights,” said co-author Phil Goldberg. “People who violate the law by improperly interfering with legitimate business activities, even to advance a political or public policy preference, can be held accountable for their actions through civil litigation.”
Environmental activists that are part of the “Keep it in the Ground” movement have shifted their focus towards obstructing pipeline infrastructure that transports oil and gas products to consumer markets across the United States. Despite the many levels of regulatory review, protests have escalated from peaceful demonstrations to unlawful, dangerous tactics that aim to sabotage pipelines and equipment, harass workers, and diminish their funding.
“Pipelines are critical to providing consumers with affordable energy products in the safest means available,” said co-author Jamie Thompson. “What we are seeing increasingly today is radical activism that exceeds the bounds of civilized discourse and proper behavior. The push by opponents, at all costs, to defund legally permitted projects through campaigns of intimidation, threats, or other inappropriate conduct crosses the line and should not be tolerated.”
These inauspicious tactics have led states to implement legislation to hold protesters accountable. In South Dakota, for example, the state legislature recently passed Senate Bill 189 allowing the state to seek funds from protesters or “riot boosters” to help cover high costs associated with pipeline protests. A number of other states are also considering legislation to further protect critical infrastructure, including pipelines, by increasing criminal penalties.
For more information and to read the full report, visit gainnow.org.
Contact: Connor Greenwood [email protected].
Grow America’s Infrastructure Now (GAIN) is a national coalition consisting of businesses, trade associations, and labor groups that seeks to promote key infrastructure investments that ensure a stronger, more secure, and prosperous country. Follow the Coalition on Twitter @GAINNowAmerica.