Environmental activists rip bill meant to 'intimidate' energy protests
‘It really should be called the Protect Big Energy From the People Bill’
By Ted Cox
Environmental activists from across the state spoke out Tuesday in a Springfield news conference against a bill they said would “intimidate” energy protests.
“This bill is called the Critical Infrastructure Bill,” said Elizabeth Kosuth, a Bloomington resident and member of Illinois People’s Action. “But it really should be called the Protect Big Energy From the People Bill.”
House Bill 1633 previously came under attack a month ago from the House Progressive Caucus and the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter, which complained that it would have a “chilling effect on free speech.”
It basically would turn many offenses on protests, including trespassing, into felonies, and would also hold organizations responsible for the actions of their members.
“This bill is meant to silence people like me,” said Tabitha Tripp, an Anna resident and one of the founders of Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment. Citing the bill’s “fearmongering” and “broad language,” Tripp added that it’s “meant to silence communities, organizations, and people into submission.”
“It’s our right to protest what is unjust. Legislators should be ashamed of even considering such authoritarian legislation that protects industry while nullifying our constitutional rights.”
Tabitha Tripp of SAFE (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
“This bill is extremely broad and drafted in a way that simply increases punishments for actions that are already illegal,” said Cary Shepherd, policy director for the Illinois Environmental Council. Pointing out the bill is “exceptionally misleading” in determining what constitutes a “critical infrastructure facility,” Shepherd said it could be applied to someone painting graffiti in an abandoned rail yard or on a telephone pole owned by a utility.
“The environmental community is certainly in support of making sure that true critical infrastructure facilities are protected in a safe way that avoids harm to people, that minimizes the risk of any environmental catastrophe,” he added.
Claiming that 50 organizations across the state have signed on to oppose the bill, Kylah Johnston of the People’s Lobby in Chicago said, “Our freedom to stand up and fight back is being threatened.”
Kosuth said it was intended to “change Illinois law to intimidate us in exercising our right to protest.”
“We must stand up to the governments and corporations that are destroying our planet for profit,” said Taylor Blevons of Greenpeace.
“It’s our right to protest what is unjust,” Tripp said. “Legislators should be ashamed of even considering such authoritarian legislation that protects industry while nullifying our constitutional rights.
“Communities across Illinois have the right to peacefully resist environmentally and socially unsafe and unjust policies and unchecked corporate abuse.”
Shepherd called it a misguided solution in search of a problem that doesn’t even exist. “As far as we can tell, there is not an epidemic of problems such as that in Illinois,” he said. “But this bill certainly would create a problem with increased and unnecessary incarceration.”