A federal judge in Minnesota acquitted three environmental activists who suggested their decision to sabotage an oil pipeline two years ago was done to help save the world from man-made global warming.
Judge Robert Tiffany dismissed Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston and Ben Joldersma after prosecutors failed to provide evidence showing any damage to two Enbridge pipelines. Two of the three faced felony charges in 2017 for attempting to close valves carrying crude oil from Canada to the U.S.
Tiffany’s decision came a week after they were preparing to present a “climate necessity defense” with testimony from climate scientists and other activists. The court disallowed all expert testimony related to climate change and civil disobedience last week, while still allowing testimony regarding safety.
“While I’m very glad that the court acknowledged that we did not damage the pipelines, I’m heartbroken that the jury didn’t get to hear our expert witnesses and their profoundly important warnings about the climate crisis,” Johnston, a Seattle resident and poet, said in a statement following the decision.
She added: “We are fast losing our window of opportunity to save ourselves and much of the beauty of this world. We turned those valves to disrupt the business-as-usual that we know is leading to catastrophe, and to send a strong message that might focus attention to the problem.”
The case establishes a very important legal precedent, according to Lauren Regan, an executive director for the Oregon-based Civil Liberties Defense Center. “[T]he climate necessity defense was upheld by the highest court in the State, which affirmed that these climate activists had the right to assert the climate necessity defense to a jury,” she said in a statement.
Other activists have tried similar tactics. (RELATED: Judge Allows Eco-Terrorists To Use Necessity Defense In Pipeline Sabotage Case)
Michael Foster, who was convicted in 2017 of criminal mischief after damaging the Keystone XL Pipeline, claimed in October 2017 that he might “honor the judge and the jury and their verdict” rather than appealing the conviction. The antic was probably a waste of time, he said.
“It’s been a year, and pollution is worse today than the day I turned the Keystone valve shut,” Foster, who faces up to 21 years in prison for his actions, told reporters at the time. “Based on that alone, I wonder how effective it was. If people don’t respond quickly (to climate change), it won’t matter.”
Foster, a Seattle-based activist who spends his time urging coffee shops to use different cups to save trees, took part in a protest aimed at gaining attention for climate change awareness. He is part of a much larger group of environmentalists who engaged in coordinated efforts to stymie the multi-billion oil pipeline.
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