Climate activist Michael Foster sentenced to three years in prison (two deferred) for shutting off Keystone tar sands pipeline in North Dakota
[Cavalier, North Dakota – February 6, 2018] Climate activist Michael Foster is going to jail for shutting off the emergency valve on TransCanada’s Keystone 1 tar sands pipeline in North Dakota. This morning in Pembina County Court, Judge Laurie A. Fontaine sentenced Foster to three years in prison, including two years deferred. Barring a motion to delay, he will begin serving his sentence today.
For his act of shutting off the Keystone pipeline, Foster was convicted on October 6th, 2017 of misdemeanor trespass and felony criminal mischief and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief. Those convictions carried a potential maximum penalty of 21 years in prison.
TransCanada and the State of North Dakota had both pushed for a harsh sentence to deter other climate activists (the prosecution recommended five years). Foster's act was part of a simultaneous, coordinated action in four states to shut off all major tar sands crude pipelines entering the United States. Today’s sentence comes 16 months after the original October 11, 2016 action, which temporarily stopped the flow of tar sands bitumen into the US -- the equivalent of 15% of daily domestic oil consumption.
A 53-year-old mental health counselor from Seattle, Foster has no prior convictions. He decided to take the action to shut off the Keystone pipeline after spending five years giving presentations on the climate emergency to over 13,000 people, spearheading litigation, and starting multiple climate groups, including Plant-for-the-Planet, which engages children in tree planting.
"I made a decision to commit civil disobedience to defend my family tree and yours, knowing that there is no government, no politician, no corporation on planet right now putting forward a plan to defend life as we know it,” Foster said in a pre-sentencing interview. “My kids and yours won’t survive this mess if we don’t clean up all this.”
Reacting to the sentence, Foster said, “It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in jail. What matters is stopping the pollution. If other people don’t take action, mine makes no difference. And if they don’t, the planet comes apart at the seams.The only way what I did matters is if people are stopping the poison.”
Foster’s co-defendant Sam Jessup was convicted of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief (a felony) and conspiracy trespass (a misdemeanor) for helping Foster by livestreaming his action. Those convictions carried a total potential maximum of 11 years, but Jessup will not be going to jail. Today he was sentenced to two years in prison with both years deferred and supervised probation.
At trial, Foster and Jessup’s legal team petitioned to be allowed to present the “necessity defense,” a legal defense which acknowledges that the defendants technically violated the law, but argues that it was permissible because they did so to prevent a much greater harm, in this case the harms that tar sands, the most carbon-intensive form of oil, do to the climate. It would have allowed the defendants to call expert witnesses and introduce testimony about climate change for the jury to consider. But Judge Fontaine refused to permit it.