FILE - This Feb. 13, 2017 aerial photo shows the Oceti Sakowin camp, where people have gathered to protest the Dakota Access pipeline on federal land in Cannon Ball, N.D. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says she’s proposing legislation ahead of the Keystone XL oil pipeline’s construction that would create a legal avenue to pursue out-of-state money that funds protests aimed at slowing construction. Noem’s bills come after opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. The state spent tens of millions of dollars policing the protests. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP, File)

Noem offers bills aimed at possible Keystone XL protests

PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Monday that she’s proposing legislation before construction begins on the Keystone XL oil pipeline that would create a way to go after out-of-state money that funds pipeline protests.

The legislation would let the state follow such money and “cut it off at the source,” the Republican governor said in a statement. Noem would also set up a fund to cover extraordinary law enforcement costs that could come with intense pipeline opposition.

“I’m a supporter of property rights, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. We should celebrate differences of opinion. But here in South Dakota, we will have the rule of law, because rioters do not control economic development in our state,” Noem said.

Noem’s bills come after opponents of the Dakota Access oil pipeline staged large protests that resulted in 761 arrests in southern North Dakota over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. The state spent tens of millions of dollars policing the protests.

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota said the legislation could infringe on free speech rights.

“The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy and at the core of the First Amendment,” Libby Skarin, the group’s policy director, said in a statement.

Officials have already changed state law in anticipation of Keystone XL protests. In 2017, they made it a Class 1 misdemeanour for someone to stand in the highway to stop traffic or to trespass in a posted emergency area. That was a scaled-back version of a bill championed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard amid concerns about large demonstrations similar to the Dakota Access protests.

Noem’s office said her bills arose from discussions with lawmakers, authorities, stakeholders and pipeline developer TransCanada. The 1,184-mile (1,900 kilometre) pipeline is intended to ship up to 830,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with lines to carry oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

A federal judge in Montana in February largely kept in place an injunction that blocks TransCanada from performing preliminary work on the stalled pipeline.

TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said in an email that the company appreciates Noem’s efforts to help advance the construction of Keystone XL and other pipelines in a way that ensures the safety of workers and state residents.

“Any legislation that deters unlawful activities and encourages the advancement of critical infrastructure projects is a positive step in the right direction,” Cunha said.

The developer of the Dakota Access pipeline last month sued the environmental group Greenpeace in North Dakota. Energy Transfer Partners accused the group and activists of conspiring to use illegal and violent means to disrupt construction, and benefited from the ensuing publicity to increase donations.

Greenpeace has said the company is trying to silence peaceful advocacy. A judge tossed the ETP claim out of federal court, but the company is pursuing similar claims in state court.

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Follow James Nord on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/Jvnord

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