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Minnesota state district judge Robert Tiffany has dismissed charges against three climate change activists who shut down two pipelines operated by Enbridge back in 2016. Although they had reason to be happy with the judge’s decision, the defendants were in fact disappointed: the acquittal happened mid-trial, before they had a chance to use their defense, which would have run along the lines of necessity.
The necessity defense is rarely used by attorneys, MPR News reports, and comes down to an argument that a person’s actions, although illegal, were justifiable as they sought to prevent a greater harm. If they were found guilty, the defendants would have faced prison time and fines. However, the judge said their actions had not caused any damage to the infrastructure.
"We did this action two, almost two years ago to the day, Thursday will be the second anniversary, because the problem of climate change is so urgent that we have to start shutting down tar sands pipelines down now," one of the defendants, Emily Johnston told MPR News.
The defendants’ attorney, Lauren Regan, was also disappointed they didn’t get to use the necessity defense. "We, of course, were incredibly excited to put on what would have been the dream necessity defense for the climate movement. Our experts were phenomenal. And you know if we couldn't convince rural community members who doubted the existence of climate change with this group of people we would have really had an uphill battle," she said.
Naturally, Enbridge’s response was very different. In a statement, the company said, "The individuals involved in these activities claimed to be protecting the environment, but they did the opposite and put the environment and the safety of people at risk — including themselves, first responders and neighboring communities and landowners."
A representative of a local pro-pipeline organization commented that the shutdown of a pipeline valve was a dangerous action: "'Turning the valve' was really trying to stop a 1.5-billion-pound batch of oil traveling around 8 miles per hour at one spot with one valve. It would be the same as trying to stop five 100-car trains full of oil at the same time by putting a crossing arm in front of it."
The defendants claimed they had taken precautions before turning the valve—after they called Enbridge to warn them—but never got to share these precautions with the court.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.