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Facing State Felony Charges for Disrupting 'Critical Infrastructure,' Greenpeace Activists Denounce Fossil Fuel 'Bullying Tactic'

"The most dangerous thing about that shipping channel wasn't the activists—it was and continues to be fossil fuel executives' reckless plans to push us further towards climate chaos."

Greenpeace activists hang off of a bridge above the Houston Ship Channel last week.

Greenpeace activists hang off of a bridge above the Houston Ship Channel last week. (Image: screenshot/CNN)

Greenpeace activists who rappelled off a bridge above the Houston Ship Channel last week, blockading the major "fossil fuel thoroughfare," denounced the charges they now face and said Monday that the real menace was not their act of civil disobedience but the country's failure to take sufficient action to avert climate catastrophe.

The action took place Thursday ahead of the third Democratic primary debate in Houston,and was framed by organizers as "a bold call to leaders to imagine a world beyond fossil fuels and embrace a just transition to renewable energy."

They were released from jail on Saturday. From The Houston Chronicle:

Each protester was charged with aiding and abetting obstruction of navigable waters and faces up to a year in prison or a $2,500 fine if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas’ office.

[...]

The protesters also face state felony charges of impairing or interrupting operation of a critical infrastructure facility.

That "critical infrastructure" bill—praised by the fossil fuel industry— was enacted this month. As The Intercept reported in August, it is the product of right wing bill mill ALEC and is one of a flurry of similar state laws aimed at quashing dissent of the fossil fuel industry.

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"We're looking forward to mounting a vigorous defense against these charges," said Greenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer in a statement to Common Dreams. "We believe this 'critical infrastructure' statute in particular is ripe for challenge, and we look forward to seeing what evidence the district attorney's office thinks they have that makes this charge appropriate"

"'Critical infrastructure' laws like Texas' were created by oil and gas lobbyists and secretive groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council to restrict First Amendment rights and to try to bring to bear extraordinary consequences for legitimate protests," said Wetterer. "This is a bullying tactic that serves the interests of corporations at the expense of people exercising their right to free speech."

Through that exercise,  as Greenpeace's Brianna Gibson put it, the activists brought attention to "the heart of the fossil fuel industry in the United States."

Gibson, who was one of the people who hung from the bridge, described the action as an "attempt to stop the wheels from turning in this extractive economy, even if only for a day."

Wetterer, in his statement, spoke to the need to stop extractive business-as-usual, especially as President Donald Trump wages war on science and climate action (pdf). 

"We are in a climate emergency, created by the fossil fuel industry and made worse by Trump," said Wetterer. "We can either take the bold actions necessary to stave off climate crisis today or suffer the radical consequences of climate-fueled disasters—more floods, more megastorms, and more fires—for years to come."

"This was a peaceful action," he added. "The most dangerous thing about that shipping channel wasn't the activists—it was and continues to be fossil fuel executives' reckless plans to push us further towards climate chaos."

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