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Our view: State's right to protect infrastructure

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has been told she’s no longer welcome at one of her state’s American Indian reservations after she approved legislation to restrict violent and costly protests related to infrastructure projects.

Noem was told by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council to steer clear of the Pine Ridge Reservation “until you rescind your support for SB 189 and SB 190 and affirm to your state and this country that First Amendment rights to free political speech are among the truths you hold to be self-evident. Your newly fabricated, unconstitutionally vague notion of ‘Riot Boosting’ is being litigated against and will not stand. We are particularly offended that you consulted TransCanada before introducing these bills but failed to consult the Oglala Sioux Tribe, or any of the sovereign bands of the Sioux Nation, though our treaty lands would be traversed and endangered by the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

SB 189 would allow South Dakota, and potentially a third party, to sue for “riot boosting,” or contributing financial support to those who engage in protest-related violence. SB 190 would create a fund to pay for extraordinary costs related to protests.

“I fully support the freedoms of speech and assembly, but we must also have clear expectations and the rule of the law,” Noem said after signing the bills. “My pipeline bills make clear that we will not let rioters control our economic development. These bills support constitutional rights while also protecting our people, our countries, our environment and our state.”

This conversation is equally relevant in North Dakota and Minnesota, where pipeline-related protests have caused damage to public and private property, costly delays and spikes in law-enforcement budgets.

Legislatures are taking action, including in North Dakota, where Gov. Doug Burgum recently signed SB 2044. According to the new law, anyone who intentionally tampers with infrastructure – i.e., pipelines – faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It also mandates that organizations found to have encouraged protesters could be fined up to $100,000.

Protest- and infrastructure-related laws also have been passed in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Iowa. Other states are considering it.

We believe these are sound laws that are needed to protect assets – both public and private – related to legal and properly approved projects.

Certainly, today’s oil pipeline projects are accompanied by passionate feelings on both sides, but if they have passed regulatory vetting – and if they have accommodated ample public input – they should be allowed to proceed without fear of violence, costly delays or destruction of property.

These laws have been put in place to better ensure legal projects can move forward.

As Noem said, there must be an expectation of the “rule of law” and also that states “will not let rioters control our economic development.” She is right.

In South Dakota, the tribal council is offended that Noem discussed the bills with a pipeline company but not with the state’s tribal leaders. If that is true, it was a mistake by Noem.

But new laws that protect infrastructure projects are no mistake, and states are right to put these laws in place.