Noem introduces bill package to curb Keystone XL protests

The Syncrude oil sands plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 28, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil from Canadian oil sands fields to the Gulf of Mexico, has long been at the center of a struggle pitting environmentalists against advocates of energy independence and economic growth. Copyright 2017 New York Times

PIERRE, S.D. -- So much as a donation to pipeline protesters could land someone in South Dakota court if Republican Gov. Kristi Noem's newly introduced bill is approved by legislators.

Noem announced on Monday, March 4, a surprise bill package to curb protests of TransCanada's controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

One of the two bills would create a legal avenue and funding source to pursue out-of-state sources that Noem said can fund protests aiming to shut down pipeline construction. The bill refers to this as "riot boosting."

According to Senate Bill 189 , someone may not necessarily participate in a protest personally, but could "direct, advise, encourage or solicit any other person participating in the riot to acts of force or violence," on behalf of themselves or an employer, subsidiary or agent.


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A map of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Image courtesy of TransCanada.

If SB 189 passes, the state, a political subsidiary and an "otherwise damaged third party" like TransCanada could seek civil penalties three-times the cost of damage against riot boosters.

"It allows us to follow the money for riots and cut it off at the source,” Noem said in a Monday release.

The scope of who could be sued for riot boosting is unclear. Asked if, for example, someone who donated to a GoFundMe for protesters' supplies or shelter could be sued under the bill, Noem said, "I would leave that to attorneys to decide."

Spokesperson Janna Farley said via email that based on Noem's news conference and an initial reading of the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota (ACLU-SD) thinks that could a "real possibility."

Asked to provide an example of an out-of-state riot booster, Noem said at a Monday news conference that George Soros is the "most typical national offender."

Noem said she is "quite sure" of the prevalence of riot boosting based on security reports she has reviewed. She declined to specify the source of these reports for security reasons.

"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 in the news release. "This package creates a legal avenue, if necessary, to go after out-of-state money funding riots that go beyond expressing a viewpoint but instead aim to slow down the pipeline build."


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A map of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline route, shown in green, through South Dakota. Image courtesy of TransCanada.

The second bill of the package, Senate Bill 190 , would establish the Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses (PEACE) Fund to fund law enforcement efforts on pipeline protests.

With the PEACE Fund, Noem said law enforcement costs would be dispersed between county, state and federal governments, as well as pipeline companies and protesters.

“This first-of-its-kind plan is a transparent way to spread costs and risk without raising taxes," Noem said.

SB 190 would likely only apply to the Keystone XL pipeline: The bill includes a June 2025 sunset.

Noem said her two-part package is the result of discussions between her administration and TransCanada, lawmakers, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders.

Monday's news release did not mention any discussions with South Dakota's tribes. At the news conference, Noem said she has spoken with individuals like Tribal Affairs Secretary David Flute and she is "looking forward to (the tribes') feedback" now that the legislation is public.


"I’m well aware that some of our leaders are not in favor of pipeline, although we should all be in favor of it being peaceful," she said.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline route cuts through the historic Great Sioux Nation in South Dakota, near the federally recognized Rosebud Sioux reservation .

Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Rodney Bordeaux wrote in a September 2018 letter that the tribe "will take any and all necessary steps, up to and including litigation, to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from irreparably hurting our people, our land and water, and our cultural and historic resources."

This story has been edited to reflect the correct bill numbers of Senate Bills 189 and 190.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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