On Dec. 10, Bob Dylan, in absentia, received the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature. The title track of Dylan’s 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin’ is one of the most celebrated protest songs. Undoubtedly, times are a-changin’ in Washington.
President-elect Donald Trump recently announced his selection of Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation, as secretary of state and of Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, as secretary of energy. Previously, Trump announced his selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Immediately, my Twitter feed exploded with a barrage of anti-Pruitt statements from politicians, environmentalists and celebrities. These verbal Pruitt protests follow the Obama administration’s last stand in North Dakota.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe, environmental activists and celebrities have protested the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors claim that drilling beneath Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri River, threatens water quality and health of the ancestral land.
In September, the Obama administration ordered the project to be placed on hold while the Army Corps of Engineers studied the plan. On Sunday, Dec. 4, the corps announced the denial of a permit for crossing Lake Oahe. Attorney General Loretta Lynch immediately provided a public statement emphasizing her department’s commitment to law enforcement and free speech.
In 2010, I prosecuted five professional protestors who committed criminal trespass at an energy company’s shareholder meeting in Houston. The activists, in direct defiance of law enforcement, refused to leave the company’s private property. This was not as thrilling as the recent Estée Lauder annual shareholder meeting, where attendees received goody bags filled with luxury cosmetics.
Will activism and protests escalate during a Trump administration? In anticipation, law enforcement and the business community will need to work together to create a safe atmosphere for both speech and business. The energy industry can also prepare for the future with clear communication with the public and their communities. With oil prices on the rise and the Dow nearing 20,000, times are a-changin’.