For immediate release. For media inquiries contact: Celia Alario, [email protected], 1-310-721-6517.
[St. Paul, Minnesota – July 18, 2018] The Minnesota Supreme Court yesterday denied a petition from state prosecutors appealing a lower court ruling in 2017 that granted the defense the right to present evidence regarding a “necessity defense” for climate activists who shut off tar-sands pipeline emergency valves in order to fight climate change.
Minnesota Supreme Court Judge Lorie S. Gildea denied the appeal and declined to review the matter further. Her ruling sets an important precedent, because it will guarantee the defense team will be able to present, and the jury will be able to hear and consider, evidence about climate change, including expert testimony on climate harms, to support the defendants’ contention that the immediate threat of catastrophic climate change justified the their action. When the case goes to trial later this year, it will likely be the first time that such a necessity defense of direct action on climate change is presented to a jury in the United States.
The defendants in the case are climate activists who sought to prevent climate damage by stopping the flow of carbon-intensive tar sands, and had tried many different legal means to do so over many years, to no avail. “Valve-turners” Emily Johnston and Annette Klapstein therefore initiated shutdown of block valves on Enbridge tar sands pipelines in Clearwater County, Minnesota, on October 11, 2016 as part of a coordinated action in four states. The action disrupted five pipelines, temporarily halting the flow of tar sands crude from Canada to the United States.
Klapstein and Johnson each face felony charges of criminal damage to critical public service facilities and aiding and abetting the felony, as well as misdemeanor criminal trespass and aiding and abetting the misdemeanor. The charges carry a potential maximum penalty of over 20 years in jail and fines up to $40,000. Two other defendants, videographer Steve Liptay and support person Ben Joldersma, also face criminal charges for documenting and livestreaming Johnston and Klapstein’s action.
The defendants freely admit they took the action, but have sought the opportunity to justify it in court via necessity defense. If they are successful, it would create a potentially far-reaching precedent for many other cases of climate action working their way through the courts.
"We chose this action because we hoped it could make a real difference in how the public and the legal system respond to the overwhelming threats of climate change,” said co-defendant Emily Johnston. “The Minnesota Supreme Court has validated the decision of the judge in our case, and its ruling means that we might indeed get to make that real difference. It's been a long road, but we're almost there--and not a second too soon."
"I am very happy that the Minnesota Supreme Court chose not to review the lower court’s decision to allow us to present the necessity defense in our case,” said defendant AnnetteKlapstein, who is a retired attorney. “Our right to present and the jury's right to hear the facts about the ongoing and accelerating climate catastrophe have been upheld, and we look forward to presenting this evidence to the jury."
Members of the defense team who will try the case include attorneys Tim Phillips of the Minneapolis law office of Joshua R. Williams and Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, with assistance from Kelsey Skaggs of the Climate Defense Project. A date for the trial has not yet been set, but it is expected to take place later this year, as soon as October 2018.
Meanwhile, other high-profile cases concerning climate change are coming before in the courts. The trial of Juliana v. US starts October 29, in which young people are suing the federal government for violating their constitutional rights and the public trust by failing to fight climate change. Nine cities and counties in Colorado, California, Washington, and New York, and the state of Rhode Island, have filed lawsuits against fossil fuel companies to hold them accountable for GHG emissions and climate damage (two of the California suits were recently thrown out).
NOTE TO EDITORS AND PRODUCERS:
The defendants and defense attorneys can comment and grant interviews on request. For further information, to request copies of court documents or to arrange interviews, please contact Celia Alario, [email protected], 1-310-721-6517.