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The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters

Starting on October 8, 2018, Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC along) with co-counsel, will be defending the Minnesota Valve Turners, Annette, Emily, and Ben by presenting the climate necessity defense to a Clearwater County jury.  We have been developing this cutting edge legal strategy with help from many other lawyers around the country for over 15 years, and have found the perfect moment to use it. We, and the rest of the climate justice movement have been waiting for this!

Let’s recap and review, and go back to THE ACTION:

Approximately 2 years ago, on October 11th2016, five dedicated activists, now known as the Valve Turners, symbolically turned off the valves to every pipeline bringing in Tar Sands Oil from Canada. Together they shut off 15% of the country’s most polluting energy supply for part of a day.

They accomplished this feat after extensive research and deliberation by sending one or two activists along with a videographer and support to the border of Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, to turn the safety block valves of 4 tarsands pipelines. In 4 different states they simultaneously approached the fenced enclosures with a pair of bolt cutters, cut the chains that locked the fence and then turned the valves.

It is important to note that the Valve Turners were very concerned with safety and mitigated any real chance of an accident. For this reason, they had pre-arranged a supporter who called the pipeline corporations and told them of their intentions (Kinder Morgan, Spectra Energy, TransCananda and Enbridge). After receiving the calls, each corporation turned off its own pipeline as it does during routine maintenance.

After the pipelines were closed, effectively stopping the flow of Alberta Tar Sands oil into the US, all 5 activists sat down and waited to be arrested. They always intended to take responsibility for their actions, recorded everything on film, and did not try to get away.

The necessity defense will allow us to demonstrate that

(1) the harm to the climate and/or planet that will result from obeying the law will significantly exceed the harm actually caused by this act of nonviolent direct action (breaking the law);

(2) there are no reasonable legal alternatives to breaking the law at this point;

(3) the defendants (and all of us) were in danger of imminent physical harm from climate change; and

(4) there was a direct causal connection between breaking the law and preventing the harm (i.e. but for state intervention, stopping the tar sands flow into the US would reduce carbon emissions particularly because much of the tar sands are exported outside the U.S).

The Court will then instruct the jury that if they find that each of these elements has been proven by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), the defendants must be found not guilty of the felonies they currently face.

So far, two of the Valve Turners, Ken Ward and Leonard Higgins, were charged with multiple felonies but were not sentenced to any jail time. Michael Foster, in North Dakota, was sentenced to one year in prison, but was released in less than six months.

Now the CLDC has the exciting opportunity to defend Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston, the Minnesota Valve Turners, as well as the support person– Ben Joldersma, using the necessity defense, which will allow us to put on expert testimony about the harm and lack of alternatives available in order to stop the greater harm of catastrophic climate change from occurring! Stay tuned as CLDC reports from the courtroom every day of trial! We would also like to extend gratitude and thanks to our local counsel Tim Phillips, as well as Kelsey Skaggs of the Climate Defense Project.

We need your support to fund this historic trial! Defending the Valve Turners and fighting for the Necessity Defense across the country is expensive and we can’t do it without your support. Can you donate today to help us raise $15,000 before October 8th? 

 

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