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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Climate Activists Arrested After Blocking Railroad Tracks To Oil Refineries

Environmental protest in Anacortes, Wash. KIRO-TV_2

Environmental protest in Anacortes, Wash. KIRO-TV

By Red Power Media, Staff, May 16, 2016

52 Climate Activists Arrested After Railroad Tracks Shutdown

Authorities cleared the railroad tracks of protesters and arrested 52 climate activists Sunday morning in Washington state, after a two-day shutdown.

According to Newsmax.com, climate activists were arrested in Skagit County for trespassing on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks leading to oil refineries. The activists camped out on the tracks and one was charged with resisting arrest.

“We believe strongly that the only thing that historically and consistently brought about the kind of social change of the rapid pace that we need to confront the threat of climate change is mass disobedient movements,” said Ahmed Gaya, a BreakFreePNW organizer.

Environmental protest in Anacortes, Wash. KIRO-TV

Environmental protest in Anacortes, Wash. KIRO-TV

KING-TV reports about 2,000 protesters came together near Anacortes to try to prevent oil from being transported to the state’s refineries on land and water. Of those, 52 were arrested as authorities removed their protest campsites from tracks near Mount Vernon, which led to the refineries.

“We’ve been in communication throughout the weekend with protesters to let them know that they risked arrest for trespassing on the railroad tracks,” said Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt. “Prior to making any arrests, we did advise protesters that they could move to designated locations near March’s Point and lawfully demonstrate.”

Dozens of protesters, described as “kayaktivists,” appeared in their boats near two Skagit County oil refineries as part of the climate change protests.

“If I get arrested for my Mother Earth, then I will do it,” protester Kayah George, a member of the Tulalip Tribe, told KIRO-TV. “It is a sacrifice I have to make.”

The Associated Press reported that activists in Albany, New York targeted crude-by-rail trains and oil barges at the Port of Albany on the Hudson River for its protests on Saturday. About 40 activists tried to line up across the river in kayaks Friday to practice blocking oil barges but were broken up by police and several U.S. Coast Guard boats.

NPR says, the protest in Washington was part of a coordinated effort called Break Free 2016, which included protests and marches in Australia, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Indonesia and Nigeria, among other places.

The organizers say that between May 3 and May 15, tens of thousands of people participated around the world.

First Nations Lead Protest Against Pollution In Ontario’s Chemical Valley

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National Observer‎

Hundreds of climate activists marched in a ‘Toxic Tour’ through a bleak industrial landscape on the edge of Ontario that is a frontline in Canada’s climate wars.

They were gathered to support the tiny Aamjiwnaang First Nation, whose traditional territory lies near an area known as “Chemical Valley” — a 15 square-mile area in Sarnia, where over 40 per cent of Canada’s chemical industry is based. Nearly 60 oil refineries and factories are crammed into an industrial strip overlooking the St. Clair River.

Storage tanks and oil terminals just a stone’s throw from Aamjiwnaang lands, and the skyline dominated by familiar company logos: Enbridge, TransAlta, Cabot, Suncor Energy Inc., Imperial Oil, among others.

“We’re not allowed to touch the water in our community because of how badly they (the chemicals) have impacted us,” said Aamjiwnaang activist Lindsay Gray, who helped organize the Sept. 5 protest.

Use of banned chemicals “another form of genocide” against First Nations

Both Gray and her sister Vanessa recalled experiences of watching loved ones suffer from miscarriages or fatal cancers which they believe to be caused by breathing in toxic fumes such as benzene from the refineries.

In addition to diseases, Lindsay Gray said the sex ratio in her community was increasingly out of balance, with nearly twice as many girls being born as boys.

A 2005 study performed by Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) found that the proportion oflive male births in the Aamjiwnaang community had steadily declined from the early 1990s to 2003.

EHP’s findings states that lower proportions of male offspring have been observed in populations exposed to dioxin, mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and parental smoking.

According to the report, chemicals such as these may act as endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs), influencing the sex ratio by changing parents’ hormonal make-up, or by inducing sex-specific mortality in utero.

Gray said that studies revealed that Chemical Valley residents had PCBs in their blood and mercury in their hair, while chemicals their parents and grandparents were exposed to are being passed down to future generations.

As well as disrupting birth ratios, PCBs are carcinogenic to animals. People exposed to PCBshave suffered both malignant melanomas and rare forms of liver cancer, but the human link as not as conclusively proven.

“We say that this is another form of genocide,” said Gray, who accused fossil fuel companies of working to change the government’s industrial regulations to fit their needs. “We’re really facing the cost of oil. People don’t know that that this is what it’s costing. It’s people’s lives.”

According to Environment Canada, PCBs were banned nationwide in 1977, but regulations allowed companies already using PCB equipment to continue doing so until the end of its service life.

“Despite the large reductions in PCB inventories since the implementation of regulatory controls, releases of PCBs to the environment through spills and fires continue to occur,” Environment Canada’s website states. “If action is not taken to ‘speed up’ the pace of PCB phase-out, Environment Canada is concerned that the elimination of PCBs from Canada may not be reached for another generation.”

Lives impacted by petrochemical pollution

Vanessa’s most poignant childhood memory was that of her pet cat whom she rescued from the bush as a young child, only to see him of cancer when she was 10 or 11. She recalled how the cancer consumed its body, and saw industrial pollution as a factor behind its early death.

“He was my best friend — and the industry took him away from me,” Vanessa Gray said. “That’s when I knew my purpose was to fight against the [oil] industry.”

Living in Chemical Valley took an emotional toll on both sisters. They remember being sent home from daycare after getting sick from chemical fumes, hearing the echoing wail of sirens, facing constant threats of evacuations due to chemical leaks, and watching the sky glow orange at night.

Chemical Valley has a history of leaks dating back to the 1980s, when 11,000 litres of dry-cleaning fluid spilled from a Dow facility into the St. Clair and sank to the bottom.

Just two years ago, another chemical leak left children in the Aamjiwnaang’s daycare centre with red, crusty, eyes and feeling sick. Taken to hospital by their parents, they were diagnosed with ‘flu’, but the company in question had not notified medical staff of any spillage, according to Lindsay.

“I would ask the oil companies and Stephen Harper to get off my territory…they are not welcome. They are destroying the land and they have lost their privilege of being here,” said Vanessa.

Clean up efforts

However, some companies have made an effort to clean up Sarnia. In 2004, Dow removed river sediment from the St. Clair poisoned by mercury and other chemicals, five years before closing its plant entirely in 2009.

In 2002, Imperial Oil announced a 92 per cent drop in benzene emissions compared to a decade prior, while NOVA Chemicals slashed their benzene output by 79 per cent, simply by having work crews tighten up leaky valves.

Line 9 opposition

The Aamjiwnaang are concerned not only about the impact of leaks from Chemical Valley, but also the possible environmental impact if pipeline giant Enbridge wins approval for its Line 9 project.

The company is proposing to reactivate a leak-prone 38-year old pipeline to pump oil sands bitumen east from Sarnia through Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area, to terminals in Montreal.

“We’re speaking out against the tar sand expansions particularly with Line 9, which will increase the amount of emissions being produced here in Sarnia next to the Aamjiwnaang Reserve,” said activist Louisette Lanteigne, whose Waterloo home is close to Line 9’s route. “These are the people paying the toll.”

Lanteigne said she was shocked to see the landscape itself in Chemical Valley,walking past freshly-planted trees with dead branches at their bases, patches of dead grass, surrounded by soil with a coal-black tinge.

“It’s discouraging. The whole (Toxic Tour) walk is through the chemical producers and it ends at the cemetery, which I thought was extremely poignant because that’s what we’re trying to fight [against], that path of corporate destruction. It always leads to death,” said Lanteigne.

But Ontario has recently started taking steps to mitigate environmental damage. The provincial government shut down its last remaining coal power plants in 2013, cutting emissions and dramatically improving air quality in Toronto.

Earlier this year, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a new cap-and-trade program to cut carbon emissions, linking her province with Quebec and California in a continent-wide fight against global warming.

Ontario is also pressing ahead with a number of other measures to transition off fossil fuels, including full electrification of its rail network and the development of renewable energy sources including wind and solar power. Already, wind turbines are sprouting less than an hour’s drive east of Chemical Valley, lining the 402 Freeway towards London.

Pumping heart of oil country

People from outside Sarnia joined in the Toxic Tour for a closer look at the front lines of Canada’s chemical industry.

“This place is pumping like a heart, pumping all of this oil,” said Kelly Kiyoshk, an Ojibway from British Columbia. “Forty per cent of the petrochemical industry with their pumping [of oil] is coming from this place….for the people to realize what this place is and for the effects that it’s having, that was really important.”

Jessica Lyons, a resident from Toronto, said many people living in southern Ontario had no idea that a place like Chemical Valley existed and the impact on communities like the Aamjiwnaang, who cope with the effects of toxins every day.

She expressed hope that the Aamjiwnaang’s leadership would raise awareness of First Nations’ territories impacted by the petrochemical industry, and said Prime Minister Stephen Harper was “going down” in this year’s fall election for weakening federal environmental regulations to facilitate industry development.

http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/09/07/news/first-nations-lead-protest-against-pollution-ontarios-chemical-valley