Advisory - June 1, 2017


Contact:  Stephen Kent, [email protected]914-589-5988 


But As US Pulls Out of Paris Agreement and Doubles Down on Fossil Fuels, Citizen Climate Action May Be the Only Kind We Get 

WHAT?  Climate activist Ken Ward’s second trial for closing a pipeline emergency valve and shutting off an oil sands pipeline to fight climate change startsJune 5 in Skagit County, Washington.  Ward faces a raft of felony charges potentially carrying decades in prison, and his case has received national and international coverage. 

Ward’s action was coordinated with other #ShutItDown activists who simultaneously turned off emergency valves on other oil sands pipelines in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana, temporarily stopping the flow of carbon-intensive oil sands from Canada to the US.  They also face felony charges and potentially years in prison.

Ward’s first trial in January ended in a hung jury, as one or more jurors refused to convict him, though the facts of what he did were not in dispute.  Both in that trial and in the upcoming retrial, Judge Michael Rickert denied Ward the right a “necessity defense,” i.e. to argue his actions prevented a greater harm to the climate, and the climate emergency justified them. “There’s tremendous controversy over the fact whether [climate change] even exists,” Rickert said at a January pre-trial hearing.  In a motion against reconsidering the necessity defense in Ward’s upcoming retrial, the prosecutor argued, “Some would even argue that [climate change] is not a true threat to begin with, as there are clearly different sides to the issue.”

Amid such statements of climate skepticism, the Judge’s rulings prevent Ward from mounting his true defense and bars juries in both trials from hearing experts and testimony about climate change.  But the necessity defense has been used successfully by climate activists before, and legal scholars say the case for that is getting stronger as climate change becomes more obvious, scientific evidence mounts, and the US government subsidizes and deregulates the fossil fuel industry, cancels climate programs and abandons the Paris climate agreement. Citizen climate action looks increasingly like the only kind Americans will get.

As citizen resistance to fossil fuel expansion grows across America, at stake in Ward’s landmark retrial is whether courts will continue to be hostile to it, with judges expressing climate skepticism and treating non-violent actions to prevent climate harm as felonies, while fossil fuel companies are free to damage the climate with impunity.  In a statement at his arraignment, Ward said, “My actions of walking across a field, cutting a fence chain and turning a valve are inconsequential compared to the ghastly effect of continuing to burn tar sands oil. I do not agree… that it is reasonable to dust off antique laws designed to suppress labor union organizing (Sabotage) and use them to shield the very industries that are driving us toward climate cataclysm.... I look forward to putting these serious questions before a jury.” 

WHO?  The following sources will be at trial and are available for interviews there.  Side interviews with these and other sources can be arranged on request:

Ken Ward, Co-founder of Climate Disobedience Center.  He goes on re-trial onJune 5 for burglary, criminal trespass, and sabotage  for shutting off a safety valve on the TransMountain pipeline in Skagit County, Washington.  The charges potentially carry decades of jail time and fines up to $21,000.  His latest oped in The Hill on the Trump administration withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement is here

Lauren C. Regan, Ken Ward’s attorney and Founder/Executive Director of the The Civil Liberties Defense Center

Kelsey Skaggs, Executive Director and staff attorney, Climate Defense Project and a member of Ken Ward’s defense team. 

Anthony Rogers-Wright, US Coordinator, The Leap

WHEN & WHERE? Ken Ward’s retrial starts on June 5, 2017 in Skagit County Superior Court, located at 205 West Kincaid Street in Mount Vernon, Washington, an hour’s drive from Seattle.  Jury selection starts 9:30am.  Journalists who can’t physically come to the courthouse can talk to Ward and other sources there remotely, and follow their live updates and video posts from the trial.  For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Stephen Kent, [email protected]914-589-5988

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