A state supreme court is allowing environmental activists to claim their tampering of equipment was made in defense, a move that could potentially open the door to legalized vandalism against pipelines.
A group of environmentalists is claiming “necessity defense” regarding their attempts in 2016 to shut down two pipelines, arguing that the threat of climate change is so imminent that they were justified in their actions.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals in April ruled in their favor. The Minnesota Supreme Court subsequently declined to review this decision, allowing the protesters to fight their criminal charges using the necessity defense strategy.
The four individuals — Emily Johnston, Annette Klapstein, Benjamin Joldersma and Steven Liptay — were arrested in October 2016 for tampering with Enbridge Energy equipment in Clearwater County, Minnesota, a remote area in the northwest part of the state.
Johnston and Klapstein admitted to breaking off chains protecting emergency shut-off valves and turning them. Liptay was there to document their actions and Joldersma ensured safety precautions were met.
Their actions in Clearwater County were part of a much larger effort organized by Climate Direct Action — an environmentalist organization that openly promotes and orchestrates vandalism against crude oil pipelines.
Their website currently showcases photographs of their actions against the Enbridge-owned property. Other Climate Direct Action members have been charged with criminal activity involving anti-pipeline activism.
“For many of us engaging in work to avert civilizational collapse, there comes a point when all else has fallen away, and it becomes clear that the one thing left for us to do is to put our bodies in the way of the machine,” reads a portion of their website.
None of the four activists charged are actually natives of Minnesota, but hail from far away areas, such as Seattle and New York City.
The defendants claim they had no other choice but to damage the pipelines, arguing the dangers of climate change caused an imminent threat.
The “necessity defense” allows individuals to break the law in order to stave off greater harm. However, this is intended more for emergency situations, such as breaking a car window to save a baby from a hot vehicle.
Despite the activists’ success in being allowed to use this defense, it’s still unlikely to prove fruitful against their criminal charges.
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