Judge Acquits Pipeline Protesters Allied With Al Gore’s Daughter After They Invoked ‘The Climate’

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

A Massachusetts judge acquitted 13 defendants affiliated with former Vice President Al Gore’s daughter Karenna Gore, after they argued before the court the threat of man-made global warming justified their blocking of a pipeline project.

Environmentalists are hailing the judge’s ruling as a victory for climate activism, but the court hearing took place after the Suffolk County District Attorney dropped criminal charges against activists, downgrading them to minor civil infractions.

“Almost all of the defendants testified in front of the court in front of in open court told their stories talked about why this struggle is important to them connected this logos local struggle with national and international struggles to stem the catastrophic effects of climate change,” Attorney Josh Raisler Cohn of the National Lawyers Guild said after the verdict Tuesday.

“At the conclusion of that the court made a ruling and found that by reason of necessity they were all not responsible for committing any civil infraction,” said Cohn, whose group represented the defendants.

The 13 defendants, environmental activists affiliated with the Climate Disobedience Center, were among more than 200 people arrested in 2015 for blocking a pipeline project being built through West Roxbury, Mass.

Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, was not one of the defendants, but she was among those arrested in 2016 for a “mass graves” protest against the pipeline where activists dug then lied in trenches. Gore appeared in court along with six other activists in July 2016. Gore turned down a plea deal in July and had a court date set for September.

Gore called Tuesday’s acquittal “really important” because the “people who put themselves in the way of the building of this fossil fuel pipeline were found not responsible by reason of necessity.”

Gore and the Climate Disobedience Center hoped their colleagues’ case would go to trial where they could test using the “necessity defense” to block or sabotage fossil fuel projects in the name of stopping global warming.

The Climate Disobedience Center’s webpage details how environmentalists can use the “necessity defense” in court. The Center wants to use it to “justify action taken on behalf of the planet” for “activists who have been arrested for protesting fossil fuel extraction and government inaction on climate policy.”

Judge Mary Ann Driscoll of the West Roxbury District Court acquitted all 13 defendants Tuesday after allowing them to tell the court why they blocked a natural gas pipeline. They all argued man-made global warming drove them to action.

Environmentalists, including Al Gore himself, praised the judge’s ruling and argued the the “necessity defense” was successfully used in court.

However, the Roxbury pipeline protesters’ case tells us little about how the “necessity defense” for global warming activism will be taken in other courts. All 13 defendants were in court for a civil infraction, basically the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

It’s probably not surprising the judge acquitted all of them with the stakes so low. Remember, state prosecutors dropped criminal charges the day before they went to court.

On the other hand, defendants facing criminal charges have not been successful in justifying their actions using the “necessity defense.”

In February, a Washington environmental activist was sentenced to three years in prison for shutting down an oil pipeline. The activist, Michael Foster, was part of the “valve turners” group that shut off oil pipeline flows from Canada — an extremely dangerous action.

The court slapped Foster with a three-year sentence but deferred two of those years. Ken Ward, another “valve turner,” was sentenced to 30 days community service after two trials. Neither Foster nor Ward was allowed to invoke the “necessity defense” in court.

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