A Minnesota judge will allow four anti-pipeline activists who damaged an oil pipeline to present evidence supposedly showing the threat of climate change justified their actions.
Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein admit they coordinated with Climate Direct Action activists to shut down five oil pipelines that carry tar sands crude from Canada to the U.S. The two activists now have the opportunity to argue the immediate gravity of climate change justified their actions.
Recent hurricanes and western wildfires in the U.S. are evidence that climate change is making natural disasters worse, they told reporters Tuesday, adding that Canada’s tar sands oil contributes disproportionately because it generates more carbon dioxide than other sources of fossil fuels.
“It’s not just a question of a looming threat, it’s a disaster happening right now all over the world,” Johnston said. Klapstein, a retired attorney based in Seattle, mirrored much of her colleague’s comments but noted that this is the first time a judge has allowed necessity defense for climate change.
“It looks like we’re going to be able to bring in all our experts and present our evidence of how dire climate change is, so we’re pretty excited about that,” she said. Michael Foster, another member of Climate Direct Action, was barred from using a similar defense after he sabotaged parts of the Dakota Access Pipeline earlier this year. He is facing 21 years in prison.
Defendants in this case “must show that the harm that would have resulted from obeying the law would have significantly exceeded the harm actually caused by breaking the law, there was no legal alternative to breaking the law, the defendant was in danger of imminent physical harm, and there was a direct causal connection between breaking the law and preventing the harm,” Clearwater County District Judge Robert Tiffany, who is trying the case, wrote in a memo Tuesday.
Craig Stevens, a spokesman for GAIN Coalition, an advocacy group that supports pipeline projects, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that a necessity defense case could seriously damage a critical part of U.S. energy production.
“It’s absurd,” he said. “Will the court also weigh the necessary benefits that fossil fuels bring humankind? It was fossil fuels that led to the industrial revolution and it is fossil fuels that have brought about a new, improved standard of living unknown for previous millennia.”
Pipeline developers have been successful in recent cases against activists who try direct efforts to stymie projects.
A federal judge determined earlier this year that Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind DAPL, could hide information pertaining to the pipeline’s leak points at areas along its route. The judge argued the exception was necessary to prevent possible acts of vandalism in the future.
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