South Dakota’s Governor Gets Bill to Punish Violent Pipeline Protests

Published June 6, 2019

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s legislative package, aimed at preventing the kind of violent protests that delayed and raised the costs of the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota, passed the Senate and House on March 7, in a whirlwind of action less than72 hours after it was introduced.

The package consisted of two bills. One bill, Senate Bill 189 allows the state, on its own or in conjunction with interested third parties, to sue protesters for up to triple any damage they cause during a pipeline’s construction, including any additional costs to law enforcement to oversee protests and ensure they are non-violent and don’t damage private property or encroach on property owners rights. The second bill, Senate Bill 190, creates a Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses fund to pay for extraordinary costs stemming from protest activities until or unless they can be recovered from parties held responsible for harm in lawsuits.

Expedited Timeline

Noem introduced the package of bills on March 4, weeks after the filing deadline for new bills. As a result, Republicans had to suspend the filing rules to give the legislative package a hearing. The House and Senate’s Joint Appropriations Committee heard two hours of testimony before approving the bills on March 6, and both the Senate, with a vote of 30 in favor of the bills and four opposed, and House, by a similarly lopsided vote of 53 in favor and 13 opposed, passed the bills on March 7.

Pending legal challenges, construction of a portion of the embattled the Keystone XL pipeline could begin in South Dakota in 2019, so the legislature felt it necessary to act before the legislative session ended.

Proactive On Pipelines

Legislators said the bills were offered to protect against the kinds of law enforcement and clean-up costs North Dakota’s state and county government’s incurred as a result of the 2016 protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. For instance, after the Dakota Access protests ended, North Dakota’s Department of Emergency Services alone spent more than $1 million to remove 48 million tons of trash, abandoned vehicles and trailers, discarded propane tanks, and human waste from encampments that served as staging areas for environmental activists’ sometimes-violent protests of the pipeline.

During debate concerning the bill on the Senate floor, state Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) said the bills were the state’s attempt to anticipate potential future problems, and preemptively protect South Dakotans from “terrorist rioting” and “terrorist conduct.”

“This is about trying to protect our people,” Schoenbeck said.

For her part, Noem applauded the Legislature for acting so quickly on her proposals and for its “thoughtful review and decisive leadership” on the bills.

“These bills are pro-economic development, pro-free speech, and take a proactive approach to spreading the risk and costs associated with building a pipeline,” said Noem said in a press statement. “I believe this approach will be part of the next generation of major energy infrastructure development.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

Official Connections

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem:;

South Dakota state Sen. Lee Schoenbeck, (R-Watertown):; [email protected]