Pipeline Opponents Challenge Louisiana Law Targeting Protesters

(Reuters) - Environmental groups and demonstrators arrested near an Energy Transfer LP crude pipeline filed a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging a 2018 Louisiana state law that made trespassing near oil and gas pipelines a criminal offense.

Felony charges that carry sentences of up to five years in prison were brought last year against protesters and a journalist near the Dallas-based operator's Bayou Bridge pipeline, which was then under construction, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

After protests erupted near Energy Transfer's Dakota Access Pipeline and Bayou Bridge beginning in 2016, 18 states including Texas, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have introduced bills similar to the Louisiana law, according to the non-profit Center for Constitutional Rights.

Trespassing near pipelines previously drew misdemeanor charges in Louisiana. The new law aims "to chill, and harshly punish, speech and expression in opposition to pipeline projects," the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs include environmental groups Louisiana Bucket Brigade, 350 New Orleans and four of the people arrested for trespassing at Bayou Bridge. They also include landowners opposed to the pipeline.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and two other state and local officials were named as defendants in the lawsuit. Landry's office declined to comment until it reviews the lawsuit, spokesman Jacques Ambers said.

Energy Transfer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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