MN Judge Does A Disservice To All Minnesotans By Letting Pipeline Protesters Off the Hook

On October 11, 2016, three pipeline protesters from Seattle, Annette Klapstein, Emily Johnston, and Ben Joldersma, disguised as safety workers scaled a chain-link fence and used bolt cutters to unlock the shut-off valves on the Enbridge lines 4 and 67, which carry millions of gallons of oil daily across Minnesota from western Canada.

The anti-pipeline activists faced felony charges that could result in up to 10 years in prison, that is, until Judge Robert Tiffany  granted the protesters’ motion to dismiss the case. The ruling comes as a shock, even to the protesters themselves.

However, by dismissing this case, Judge Tiffany did a vast a disservice to all Minnesotans because it will just encourage this kind of behavior in the future.

This case was of particular interest because the anti-pipeline activists were seeking to use the “necessity defense,” arguing that their actions were somehow justified because they felt they were the only way to stem the pipeline’s impact on global warming was to trespass on to pipeline property and shut it down.

While these activists probably consider themselves to be heroes, their actions were a public nuisance, not a public necessity. Oil accounted for 30 percent of the total energy used in Minnesota in 2015, which means Minnesotans consume more oil than any other form of energy. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Minnesotans used 118.4 million barrels of petroleum products in 2016. That was about 21 barrels for each resident of the state.

We use gasoline to drive to work and drop the kids off at soccer practice, and diesel fuel powers our ambulances and school buses. Diesel also powers the tractors and combines that farmers use to grow our food and the semi-trucks that deliver this food to the grocery store before it ultimately ends up on our tables.

Pipelines transported the vast majority of this oil.

In short, making oil transportation less safe and more expensive is bad for all Minnesotans, especially those who favor a clean environment.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that these pipeline activists are as dependent upon fossil fuels as anyone else. After all, they probably used fossil fuels to get from Washington to Minnesota. This is a key reason why other climate-change related cases have been defeated in other parts of the country.

For example, New York Judge John F. Keenan threw out a lawsuit initiated by New York City which sought damage payments from oil companies for future climate change damages. The lawsuit was tossed because New York City is a major consumer of oil and natural gas. Keenan scolded the attorneys:

“I mean, aren’t the plaintiffs using the product that is being the subject of the lawsuit and haven’t they been using it and aren’t they continuing to use it?” he asked. He cited the city’s tens of thousands of police cars, sanitation trucks, fire trucks and more. “If you go out the door and over to Foley Square,” he said, “you’re going to find police cars.”

Back in Minnesota, the activists claim shutting down the flow of bitumen, produced from oil sands, was necessary to stem climate change, arguing this oil is too costly and emits too much CO2. However, these protests were originally established to show support for the protesters who impeded the development of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, which carries oil that is lower cost, and emits less CO2 than bitumen.

Let’s not forget the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters, who supposedly cared about the environment, left their encampment looking like this: 

These protesters would not have been exonerated had Governor Mark Dayton not vetoed crucial legislation meant to protect crucial infrastructure projects from damage caused by protester groups by making protesters individually liable for any property damages if they are convicted of trespass as part of a protest.

The freedom to assemble doesn’t extend to  damaging the property of others. Unfortunately, judge Tiffany’s reckless actions will likely embolden anti-pipeline activists to destroy equipment at the construction sites for Enbridge’s Line 3.