Appeals Court Allows ‘Necessity Defense’ for Pipeline Protesters in Minnesota

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

Enbridge pipeline protesters claim threat of climate change made civil disobedience necessary

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that four anti-pipeline activists facing criminal charges have a legit case to argue the “necessity defense” in court.

According to EcoWatch, the so-called “Valve Turners” Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein were charged after shutting off the emergency valves on a pair of tar sands pipelines owned by Enbridge Energy.

The pipelines targeted were Enbridge line 4 and 67 in Leonard, Minnesota.

Johnston and Klapstein, and the two defendants who filmed them in October 2016, argue their actions to stop the flow of the polluting bitumen from Canadian tar sands fields to the U.S. were justified due to the threat of climate change and had no legal alternatives. They plan to call expert witnesses who will back them up.

Prosecutors had challenged the decision to allow the “necessity defense” arguing its inclusion would confuse a jury and be less likely to result in a conviction, but the Court ruled 2-1 against them. The state can ask the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

While District Judge Robert Tiffany allowed the necessity defense, he also warned in a ruling in October that the four must clear a high legal bar to succeed.

Another hurdle is that the jury will come from a sparsely populated county where Enbridge is a major employer and the largest property taxpayer.

Johnston and Klapstein face felony charges of criminal damage to critical public service facilities and other counts.

Attorneys expect the judge to set trial dates for sometime this summer in Clearwater County.

The necessity defense has worked for climate activists before.

Last month, a Massachusetts judge found 13 activists who were arrested for sitting in holes dug for a pipeline to block construction “not responsible by reason of necessity” because the action was taken to avoid serious climate damage.

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