HOUSTON (Reuters) – Federal and state authorities on Friday criminally charged climate change protesters for shutting down the largest U.S. energy-export port for a day by dangling from a bridge.
The protest organized by Greenpeace closed part of the Houston Ship Channel on Thursday. The Harris County District Attorney’s office said its charges were the first under a new law that makes it a felony to disrupt energy pipelines and ports.
“This action cost our community many, many millions of dollars in lost commerce,” said Sean Teare, a Harris County prosecutor, citing day-long shipping disruptions.
Those charged include 31 people who dangled on ropes off a bridge or who provided logistical support, said Teare. Most of the protesters were expected to appear Friday before a magistrate for a probable cause hearing, he said.
All 31 face up to a $10,000 fine and two years in prison if convicted. The district attorney’s office plans to convene a grand jury to consider other criminal charges, he said.
Federal prosecutors separately charged 22 members of the same group with misdemeanor obstruction of navigable waters, according to a filing on Friday. They could face up to a year in prison on the federal charges.
“This is a bullying tactic that serves the interests of corporations at the expense of people exercising their right to free speech,” said Tom Wetterer, Greenpeace’s general counsel.
Texas was one of seven states this year that passed laws seeking to curb protests over energy projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and Bayou Bridge pipeline.