Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Activists May Argue Pipeline Shutdown Was Necessary Due to Climate Change, Court Rules

Climate
Activists May Argue Pipeline Shutdown Was Necessary Due to Climate Change, Court Rules
Climate activists Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein shut down Enbridge's tar sands pipelines 4 and 67 in Minnesota on Oct. 11, 2016. Climate Direct Action

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that four climate activists facing criminal charges may use an unusual "necessity defense" over their efforts to shut down a pair of tar sands pipelines owned by Enbridge Energy.

"Valve turners" Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein were charged after shutting off the emergency valves on the two pipelines in October 2016. Johnston and Klapstein, and the two defendants who filmed them, argue their actions to stop the flow of the polluting bitumen were justified due to the threat of climate change.


The action was part of Climate Direct Action's plan to shut down five pipelines across the U.S. that deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada.

The pipelines targeted were Enbridge line 4 and 67 in Leonard, Minnesota; TransCanada's Keystone pipeline in Walhalla, North Dakota; Spectra Energy's Express pipeline at Coal Banks Landing, Montana; and Kinder Morgan's Trans-Mountain pipeline in Anacortes, Washington.

The case now heads to trial in Clearwater County later this year. This court's decision allows the defense to call on climate scientists and other experts to explain the threat of climate change during the trial.

"The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld our right to present the facts on the ongoing climate catastrophe, caused largely by the fossil fuel industry, to a Minnesota jury," Klapstein told the Associated Press in a statement. "As a retired attorney, I am encouraged to see that courts across the country seem increasingly willing to allow the necessity defense in climate cases."

The activists face felony charges of criminal damage to property and other counts.

In October, a district court judge ruled that he will allow the pipeline protesters to present the necessity defense for the charges. State prosecutors challenged the decision and the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in February.

According to the Associated Press, the three-judge appeals panel ruled 2-1 Monday that the prosecutor failed to show that allowing the necessity defense will have a "critical impact" on the outcome of the protesters' trials.

However, Appeals Judge Francis Connolly wrote in a dissenting opinion that the necessity defense does not apply "because there is no direct, causal connection between respondents' criminal trespass and the prevention of global warming."

"This case is about whether respondents have committed the crimes of damage to property and trespass. It is not about global warming," Connolly wrote.

This is not the first time a court has dismissed charges against a group of protesters using the defense. Last month, a Boston judge sided with 13 climate activists who were arrested for protesting the West Roxbury Mass Lateral Pipeline. The protestors argued the threat of climate change necessitated their civil disobedience.

One of the beavers released into England's Somerset county this January, which has now helped build the area's first dam in more than 400 years. Ben Birchall / PA Images via Getty Images

England's Somerset county can now boast its first beaver dam in more than 400 years.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Australia's dingo fences, built to protect livestock from wild dogs, stretch for thousands of miles. Marian Deschain / Wikimedia

By Alex McInturff, Christine Wilkinson and Wenjing Xu

What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet's fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Hopi blue corn is being affected by climate change. Abrahami / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

Climate change is making ancient Hopi farming nearly impossible, threatening not just the Tribe's staple food source, but a pillar of its culture and religion, the Arizona Republic reports.

Read More Show Less
Pollution on the Ganges River. Kaushik Ghosh / Moment Open / Getty Images

The most polluted river in the world continues to be exploited through fishing practices that threaten endangered wildlife, new research shows.

Read More Show Less
Oil spills, such as the one in Mauritius in August 2020, could soon be among the ecological crimes considered ecocide. - / AFP / Getty Images

By Kenny Stancil

An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of "ecocide" with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Read More Show Less