Activists Are Using the “Climate Necessity Defense” in Court — and Winning

Jessica Reznicek could’ve gotten away with disassembling bits and pieces of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in Iowa and South Dakota in 2016 and 2017, slicing through metal with an oxyacetylene cutting welding torch in broad daylight without detection; but eluding the law wasn’t her primary purpose. She made it clear in a claim of responsibilityShe wanted to sabotage Energy Transfer, LLC, she wrote a July 24, 2017 letter.Sparkling equipment public discourse surrounding nonviolent direct action.” Though not a formal legal instrument, the claim expresses her intentions, motivations and aspirations in taking the actions that she did. After exhausting all other tactics, after all the public comment, petitions hunger strikes, marches rallies, boycotts, and encampments, DAPL was still not stopped.She had to confront her truth about the construction she was working on. [A] private corporation … has run rampantly across our country seizing land and polluting our nationWater supply. You may not agree with our tactics, but you can clearly see the necessity of them in light of the broken federal government and the corporations they protect.”

Even though the pipeline was not allowed to send oil below the Missouri River, it is used every day. 570,000 barrels of oil(with an expanded capability of 750,000 barrels and ultimately 1.1 million barrelsIt can be moved through. The current flow represents about 40% of the Bakken oil fields’ daily output. On September 10, 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers published its intention to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, but at present the full extent of the pipeline’s contribution to climate change is unknown. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered that North Dakota was the most affected by climate change in 2016.Bakken’s Bakken oil-and-gas field was responsible for releasing 275,000 tonnes of methane annually; researchers at the University of Michigan foundThe combined North Dakota-Montana field emits approximately 2 percent (around 250,000 tons per annum) of the world’s greenhouse gasess ethane.

Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, U.S. District Judge, Southern District of Iowa, strongly disagreed with Reznicek and, on June 30, 2021. she threw the book at her. On top of the 36 months to which Reznicek had already consented in her plea agreement (rather than face a possible 20-year sentence), Ebinger, an Obama appointee, heaped onto the Land and Water Protector a 60-month “domestic terrorism” enhancement, authorized by the Patriot Act. The court was not.t done. Reznicek was released after eight years in a federal penitentiary.Three years of federal supervision would further restrict her liberty and she would have to pay $3.2 million in Energy Transfer restitution. FCI Waseca was her minimum security women’s prison. She began her sentence.On August 11, 2021, he was taken to a prison in southern Minnesota. An appeal was filed shortly afterwards.

Bill Quigley is a renowned civil rights lawyer and soon-to be Loyola University professor emeritus. He has represented Reznicek pro bonoIn a variety of matters, including the current appeal, told TruthoutThe price is way too high.” Likening her act of resistance to people who broke laws to free slaves, he said, History has shown that they were not criminals, but courageous leaders. I believe one day people will say the same about Jessica Reznicek.” To bolster the case, Quigley asked the Climate Defense Project(CDP), a non-profit law firm that promotes climate necessity defense” as a persuasive legal argument, to help educate the court and the public about this strategy.

Ted Hamilton, co-founder and CDP staff attorney, told TruthoutThe climate necessity defenseThe main thrust is that The government and corporations have acted so poorly or irresponsibly that the laws protecting their practices and those that are designed to protect private properties may have to be suspended or ignored. [climate] crisis.”

Thought CDP is not a party, but Alex Marquardt (co-founder) filed an appeal amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief on November 11, 2021. He told TruthoutThe last section was devoted by him to the mitigating factors that the court might have considered in reaching an equitable decision.” While MarquardtWhile arguing climate necessity defense was not an option, this section of a 48-page brief does make it clear that he did not have the freedom to do so. oil pipelines are more dangerous than those who protest them.” He thinks itIt is also important to note that certain circumstances may not be suitable for you. people can commit minor lawbreaking to avert much greater harms.” This framing aligns with CDPIt is the mission of the prosecution to bring the perpetrators in carbon and methane emission crimes to trial, not those who put themselves and their psyches on the line.

Marquardt Hamilton and CDPKelsey Skaggs (Executive Director) was the third cofounder. They met at Harvard Law School in 2013, as the campus divestment movement was hotting up. In 2014, the trio brought a lawsuit against Harvard during their second year to force it out of fossil fuel companies. Despite losing, they were able to win because of issues of standing” (the court said students did not have the authority to guide the universityThey accepted their defeat on technical grounds, learned and changed tactics. They began to press state lawyers general, who incontestably have the legal standing to compel universities into fulfilling their fiduciary or stewardship duties.You have won some major awards: In September, Harvardannounced it would eliminate its $41.9 million endowment from fossil fuel investments. BostonCollege haShe also did so and as CornellBy 2027, the university will be organized in stages.

CDP is similar to the divestment work.s engagement in the arena of climate necessity defense has also yielded dramatically tangible court victories, especially remarkable given the relatively short time the team has been working at what has been thought of as a pretty obscure legal argument — even kind of out there,” according to Hamilton. They found it by actively seeking out ways to work on climate issues that were not controlled by the political system. We didnt want anything that was too reliant on that system, which seems so broken, or even regulatory mechanisms, which just seem to wax and wane with each change of the administration,” Marquardt recalled. We were looking for climate arguments that came out of grassroots climate organizing.”

They were probably still in highschool in 2008 Tim DeChristopherIn an impulsive bid of $1.8 million for 22,500 acres in a federal oil-and-gas lease sale in Salt Lake City, heI had intended to disrupt. The University of Utah student couldn’t understand why.He didn’t pay for his 14 parcels of food and was charged with criminal offense. He tried to invoke climate necessity defense but was unsuccessful in avoiding the penalties. The idea gained more attention. (Obama stopped the sale at his first term, which proved to be a very successful action. The defense tactic was rediscovered by Obama in May 2013. two climate protesters who were arrested for using a lobster boat to try to block delivery of coalJust over an hour to the Brayton Point Power Station, Somerset, MassachusettsThey are only a short drive from their campus. Their attorney provided a climate necessity defense. Samuel Sutter, District Attorney for Bristol County, was also available. dropped the chargesHowever, he also supported their defense in a remarkable press conferee on the courthouse steps. “ItWhile the cost to Somerset taxpayers was taken into consideration, this decision was made with concern for the children of Bristol County, and all children in the wider region. Climate change is one of the greatest crises our planet has ever faced.”

Marquardt Hamilton and Skaggs were inspired by its potential and invited one of the defendants and their lawyer to the law school to speak to the students. They discovered that climate necessity defense was an extension of the larger category of political necessity defense they were already familiar with. centuriesAmerican jurisprudence includes labor organizers and antiwar lawyers. They started to create a plan to establish an organization to continue this work after graduation. A clinical professor of law mentored them. The law school helped them create a winning funding request and secured the support they needed to make their pipe dream a reality. Marquardt says, We were lucky to be at a rich school.”

Three years later, Ken Ward who was born in 1966, is still alive and well.He was one of two lobster boat protesters who participated in a coordinated Washington State action with four others on October 11, 2016. valve turners” stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana. They shut off the flow of tar-sands oil from Canada together, halting it for a few minutes to draw attention to the problem and also to show how the climate necessity defense can help educate our fellow citizens.

Marquardt clarifies that the things didn’t go as planned.It didn’t go as planned. When it starts looking like a person might be allowed to put on a climate necessity defense, the prosecutor will often drop the charges,”He said. They like to focus on what you did, not why.”Two of the defendants were cleared of charges, while the defense was not allowed for the three other valve turners. Ward fought on and Skaggs was on the appellate legal teams that took his case through the Washington courts until Ward won. The Washington Supreme Court rejected a challenge to an April 8, 2019, decision on September 4, 2019. rulingBy the stateAppeals Court which had reaffirmed the decision of the lower trial courtWard refuses to hear climate necessity defensea criminal trial. This was a minor ruling that clarified internal contradictions.Ward was able to defend necessity in his own defense when he is retried. This allowed Ward to win a significant victory.

CDP was filed on January 4, 2021. amicus curiaeBriefed on behalf of a number of law professors concerned by curtailments of the right to protest. The case involved Rev. George Taylor, a member Veterans for Peace who, on September 29, 2016, stopped railroad tracks from allowing trains carrying oil and coal to cross Spokane in Washington, was the subject of the case. CDP urged this court to allow the climate necessity defense, citing it as well as civil disobedience to be heard in the case.Its importance is generally to act as safety valves for a system already in strain due climate inaction by governments. On July 15, 2021 the Washington Supreme Court did allowIt was voted 7-0, marking the first time that the highest court of a state has recognized climate necessity defense.

Judges and members of the legal establishment are finally recognizing the severity of the crisis, and understanding how law can be applied to climate change and civil disobedience,” said Hamilton. ItIt is not about having better arguments or lawyers, but understanding that there are other avenues for political change.t working.”

Marquardt worries about the limits of the legal systems despite the constant drum beat of victories.He is not one who likes to delve into the issues that are often decided by the political system. HeHe is concerned by the increasing gap between states who are expanding protections of protesters, such as Washington, and those that are restricting them. Marquardt says heHe was worried about the future effectiveness of the jury system. His personal nadir was listening as the jury pool was interviewed at a voir direHearing in North Dakota regarding a trial for a valve turner. Potential juror after potential juror claimed they would not be capable of applying the law in an impartial way. He says that judges are a bastion of democracy and one of the last remaining vital democratic forums. He works with experts in political science, drawing upon empirical data to help him.It was discovered that voting, attending civic meeting and speaking to your political representatives are all less effective. You must notre a wealthy person or one with a business interest and can just hire lobbyists to make your voice heard.” Some of the rhetoric the prosecutors articulated at the valve turner trialHe stated that it was quite disturbing.

Theyd use words like jihadists,Marquardt says, So there was also a racial element and a deliberate strategy of comparing protesters to terrorists. How cynical is it for people to use the 9/11 attacks to advance their agendas?”

Canada, just over the border, has already adopted an antiterrorism framework for their prosecution of pipeline activists. passing applicable provisions in 2015 to The Protection of Canada From Terrorists Act. The decision in Reznicek’s appeal, when it comes, is eagerly anticipated as a crucial test as to whether Water and Land Protectors in the U.S. will be successfully branded as eco-terrorists, and punished as such. Quigley also says that it is something else.

“Jessica Reznicek’s case is one of the highest profile examples of a courageous person putting herself at risk in order to try to literally save human life on earth. Not many people risk their freedom for climate justice.”