At the urging of their fossil fuel donors, lawmakers are quietly working to massively expand criminal penalties against people who protest pipelines as part of negotiations over essential new federal pipeline safety regulations.

Congress is negotiating the pipeline safety legislation, a reauthorization of the Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration program, in the wake of disastrous carbon dioxide pipeline leaks that have endangered nearby communities, stumped emergency responders, and left residents with health issues for years to come. In total, 124 new oil, gas, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide pipelines have been announced or are in the preconstruction or construction phase in the U.S., according to data from fossil fuel infrastructure tracker Oil and Gas Watch. 

The federal penalty for damaging or destroying interstate pipelines is already a felony charge mandating up to 20 years in prison. But the industry’s proposed additions, described in executives’ congressional testimony and policy briefs posted online, would widen the definition of and punishment for “attacks” on pipelines using vague language that could implicate a far broader set of activities used to protest fossil fuel infrastructure. Such language has already begun to make its way into the legislative effort to reauthorize the pipeline safety administration as Congress decides the agency’s funding and legislative mandates for the next few years.