(Bloomberg) -- Twenty-two Greenpeace USA activists will face federal charges for shutting down the Houston Ship Channel -- the nation’s busiest shipping lane -- hours before Democratic presidential candidates met for a televised debate across town.
Although the protesters were ostensibly targeting the energy industry, and intent on blocking tanker and barge traffic into one of the world’s largest refining and petrochemical complexes, they also succeeded in attracting the attention of scores of journalists in town to cover the debate.
The made-for-television event featured 11 activists dangling from the Fred Hartman Bridge, which spans the waterway linking Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. Media helicopters swarmed the bridge and police divers filled the waters as officials struggled for hours to retrieve and arrest the protesters.
Although the environmental activists were initially taken into custody on state-level criminal trespass charges, federal prosecutors on Friday afternoon announced felony charges of aiding and abetting obstruction of navigable waters against each of the activists. The protesters will be arraigned in Houston federal court on Saturday.
If convicted of the misdemeanor charges, each faces as long as a year in federal prison and a possible fine of as much as $2,500.
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