Skip to main content

Common Dreams. Journalism funded by people, not corporations.

There has never been—and never will be—an advertisement on our site except for this one: without readers like you supporting our work, we wouldn't exist.

No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news and opinion 365 days a year that is freely available to all and funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Our mission is clear. Our model is simple. If you can, please support our Fall Campaign today.

Support Our Work -- No corporate influence. No pay-wall. Independent news funded by those who support our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. Please support our Fall Campaign today.

Reznicek Montoya

#NoDAPL water protectors Jessica Reznicek (L) and Ruby Montoya during a 2017 appearance on Democracy Now! (Photo: Democracy Now! screen grab) 

As Big Oil Execs Roam Free, Climate Activist Gets 8 Years in Prison

"How many years do you think ANY fossil fuel CEO will serve for knowingly destroying our planet's climate?" asked one climate group in response to Jessica Reznicek's sentence.

Brett Wilkins

Environmentalists in recent days expressed outrage over the eight-year prison sentence handed to Jessica Reznicek—a nonviolent water protector who pleaded guilty to damaging equipment at the Dakota Access Pipeline in Iowa—while calling the fossil fuel companies who knowingly caused the climate emergency the real criminals who should be held to account.

"Why is Jessica Reznicek going to prison and Big Oil executives aren't?"
—Rebecca Parson, congressional candidate

United States District Court Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger last week sentenced Jessica Reznicek to eight years behind bars, $3,198,512.70 in restitution, and three years' post-prison supervised release after the 39-year-old activist pleaded guilty to a single count of damaging an energy facility.

In September 2019 Reznicek and 31-year-old Ruby Montoya were each indicted on nine federal charges including damaging an energy facility, use of fire in the commission of a felony, and malicious use of fire. Each of the women faced up to 110 years in prison. Montoya has yet to be sentenced.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

Reznicek, as early as November 8, 2016, and continuing until May 2, 2017, conspired with other individuals to damage the Dakota Access Pipeline at several locations... Specifically, the defendant admitted to damaging and attempting to damage the pipeline using an oxy-acetylene cutting torch and fires near pipeline instrumentation and equipment in Mahaska, Boone, and Wapello counties [in] Iowa.

The Des Moines Register reported Ebinger said a terrorism sentencing enhancement could apply because "not only the flow of oil, but the government's continued response were targets of this action."

However, environmentalists and other observers questioned the sanity of a system that prosecutes as terrorists people protecting the planet against the existential threat of a climate emergency caused largely by fossil fuel use, while protecting and rewarding perpetrators of what a growing number of international jurists call the crime of ecocide.

Reznicek's sentencing on June 30 came on the same day as the publication of secretly recorded videos showing a senior ExxonMobil government affairs executive discussing lobbying related to infrastructure legislation, involvement with "shadow groups" that cast down on scientific consensus about the climate emergency, and "wins" during the Trump administration. ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel corporations have known about human-caused global heating for decades.

"How many years do you think ANY fossil fuel CEO will serve for knowingly destroying our planet's climate?" tweeted 350 Tacoma in response to Reznicek's sentencing.

The Nation editor-at-large Mark Hertsgaard noted in a recent opinion piece published in Common Dreams that "oil companies, the executives in charge of them, the propagandists they've employed, and the politicians they've funded have largely escaped blame, much less had to pay–whether through financial penalties or prison time—for the immense damage they have done."

Prior to her sentencing, Reznicek told the court that she acted out of concern that the pipeline—which has a history of leaks—would further contaminate Iowa's drinking water.

"The toxins we enter into our waterways here in Iowa enter into the Mississippi, which enters into the Gulf," she explained. "Going to this extreme was out of character for me."

"It wasn't an easy thing to do," Reznicek said. "It wasn't an easy decision to make. I discerned it at length. The conclusion that I made was that, in my heart, this was the right thing to do. In my heart, this was not violent. In my heart, the laws that protect this pipeline are the laws that are violent."

"The people who are constructing the pipeline are ultimately the people who are contributing to the desecration of the Earth," she added.

FBI Omaha Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel said following Reznicek's sentencing that "protecting the American people from terrorism—both international and domestic—remains the FBI's number one priority."

"We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring domestic terrorists like Jessica Reznicek to justice," Kowel added. "Her sentence today should be a deterrent to anyone who intends to commit violence through an act of domestic terrorism."

Some activists contrasted Reznicek's sentence to the leniency shown so far toward participants in the deadly January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

Other activists noted that direct action protests can result in the cancellation of pipeline projects. They point to President Joe Biden's rescission of the Keystone XL Pipeline's permit and, more recently, last week's cancellation of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline in Mississippi and Tennessee as proof of what grassroots organizing can accomplish.

Reznicek's sentencing came as Indigenous-led direct action protests against the Line 3 tar sands pipeline project in Minnesota and elsewhere continue—and Stop Line 3 water protectors face felony charges for engaging in peaceful civil disobedience.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'Really Fantastic': Europe's Largest Pension Fund Announces Fossil Fuel Divestment

It's "a huge victory for the climate, human rights, and all life on Earth," said one activist.

Andrea Germanos ·


Senate Urged to Quickly Confirm Net Neutrality Advocates to FCC Posts

The White House was expected to announce the nominations of acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn.

Julia Conley ·


'A Political Scam, Not a Serious Plan': Groups Blast Australia Climate Pledge

"If Morrison expects to front up to COP 26 with this sorry excuse for a net-zero emissions target and no increase in formal ambition on Australia's 2030 target, he'll be laughed out of the room."

Andrea Germanos ·


Pelosi and Hoyer to Progressives: Just Pretend Democrats Are Winning (Even If Corporate Lobbyists Are)

"If we don't act like we are winning, the American people won't believe it either," advised House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

Jon Queally ·


Corporate Dems of US Senate Blamed as GOP Texas Governor Approves 'Rigged' Voting Maps

"We must protect our democracy with federal legislation immediately and defeat these cynical politicians at the ballot box."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo