A Washington state judge told environmentalists they could not use “necessity defense” to claim the threat of global warming justified their criminal activity — a huge blow to activists’ hopes they can use global warming as a shield from the law.
Judge Anthony Howard won’t allow environmentalist defendants to make such arguments in their closing statements, according to a tweet from an environmental activist who tried to use this argument in a previous trial. So far, no U.S. judge has allowed eco-activists to use global warming as justification for breaking the law.
Environmentalists claim Howard decided at the “last minute” not to allow activists to use the “necessity defense” argument to justify their trespassing on private property in 2014 to block rail cars carrying crude oil from traveling through Washington state.
The “necessity defense” allows someone to commit a criminal act in a legitimate emergency situation to prevent a greater societal harm from occurring.
Activists argued their actions were “justified and necessary in the fight against climate change, in light of government and corporate complacency.” Environmentalists claimed they felt the harm from global warming was “imminent” and they had “no reasonable legal alternative” to fight against warming.
They also got several “expert witnesses” to testify on their behalf, including a climate scientist who once claimed in 2009 that President Barack Obama only “has four years to save Earth.” Activists also tried to claim railroad company BNSF punished whistleblowers who warned “of dangerous conditions or practices that seriously increase danger to employees and the public.”
Five activists built an 18-foot tripod in front of a parked train carrying crude oil in Everett, Wash., to block it from traversing the state. Activists also carried around a petition for Gov. Jay Inslee asking him to ban oil trains and any projects that would bring more fossil fuels through the state.
“Effort after effort to control climate-twisting fossil fuel pollution has failed, globally, nationally and in my own state,” activist Patrick Mazza said in a statement released in December. “There came a point where I could no longer sit back and wait for the politicians to act.”
All five protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing and blocking a train. As their trial approached, they argued the “necessity defense” to justify their crimes. Howard, however, eventually disagreed.
For months, environmentalists have warned about trains carrying crude oil across the U.S. and derailing in highly populated areas. There were a series of accidents in early 2015 that prompted new federal rail car regulations for trains carrying crude oil, but the increase in rail traffic is because the U.S. is producing much more oil than in the past.
Ironically, oil car derailments would be less of a problem if environmentalists didn’t vehemently oppose pipelines to carry oil and natural gas. While rail is safe, pipelines are safer and don’t cause major accidents when they spill hydrocarbons.
Environmentalists, however, have ramped up their campaign against pipeline construction in the U.S., arguing they cause oil spills and contribute to global warming. The most notorious of these campaigns was the push to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from being built.
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