For Immediate Release
Judge Throws Out Felony Charges Against Climate Defenders
Mn Valve Turners Acquitted On All Charges In Landmark Climate Necessity Defense Trial
BAGLEY, MN - District Court Judge Robert Tiffany acquitted defendants of all charges today in the Clearwater County case of two “Valve Turners,” Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston, and support person Ben Joldersma. Judge Tiffany ruled that the prosecution failed to demonstrate any evidence of damage to two Enbridge pipelines. Klapstein and Johnston faced state felony charges for their part in the “Shut It Down” climate direct action two years ago, in which climate activists successfully disrupted all five pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands crude oil into the United States.
“While I'm very glad that the court acknowledged that we did not damage the pipelines, I'm heartbroken that the jury didn't get to hear our expert witnesses and their profoundly important warnings about the climate crisis,” said defendant Emily Johnston, 52, a Seattle resident and poet. “We are fast losing our window of opportunity to save ourselves and much of the beauty of this world. We turned those valves to disrupt the business-as-usual that we know is leading to catastrophe, and to send a strong message that might focus attention to the problem. We will continue to do that in every peaceful way we can; the stakes are far too high for us not to," Johnston added.
With the acquittal, the case establishes two important legal precedents.
Dr. James Hansen was another of the expert witnesses scheduled to give testimony. “It's great that the defendants were found not guilty, but we missed an opportunity to inform the public about the injustice of climate change. Now we need to go on offense against the real criminals, the government,” said Former NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Hansen. “The government, especially the Trump Administration, is guilty of not protecting the constitutional rights of young people. They should have a plan to phase down fossil fuel emissions, but instead they aid and abet the expansion of fossil fuel mining, which, if not stopped, will guarantee devastating consequences for young people.”
“As older white people, we acknowledge that our white privilege may have resulted in better treatment in the legal system than activists of color often receive. That is why it is important for people of privilege to take bolder risk on behalf of the planet” said defendant Annette Klapstein. “There are lives in the balance, thousands of people are already dying from the effects of climate change and if we don’t put a stop to it, it will be millions within a few short years. It is morally unacceptable to me to stand idly by while even one life is sacrificed to the greedy oil company executives and their already rich shareholders and the banks who fund them can continue to make their even more obscene profits at the expense of all life on earth,” Klapstein added.
“Standing up to the oil corporations is scary, and while my wife and I were aware of the risk we were taking, in the face of the things we will lose we knew being in support of Emily and Annette was the right decision. So, 20 or 30 years from now, as the world descends further into climate chaos and our kids ask us what were we doing in 2018, we can look them square in the eye and honestly tell them we did everything we could.
While I’m glad the court acquitted the three of us I am disappointed not to take the stand. In the two years since the action, more than one billion barrels of tar sands oil have passed through Lines 4 and 67 here in Minnesota. We are in a climate emergency that presents the gravest threat our civilization has ever faced and we have just a few short years to make some very hard changes. The good news is that if we as a people do that work it could be a powerful engine for our economy, creating 65 million good new jobs and eliminate the Fossil Fuels Tax: trillions of dollars in health care and disaster recovery costs from air pollution and climate change.”
Annette Klapstein, retired attorney and grandmother
Because I was a lawyer and spent many years working within the legal system, I know how poorly the legal system sometimes works for ordinary people and how incapable it is of adequately addressing some issues. Ultimately, I decided to take this action because my conscience would not let me do otherwise. There are people all over the world who are already losing their homes and even their lives to the catastrophic effects of climate change - they have no choice but to deal with the climate emergency we are now in. So I feel that morally, I have no choice either.
Kelsey Skaggs, Attorney and Executive Director, Climate Defense Project
“This case is about an act of civil disobedience. As part of the necessity defense, we were prepared to present evidence that civil disobedience is an effective way to influence social and policy change. Our expert witnesses would have testified about the rich tradition of civil disobedience in the United States--including the abolition of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s--and the important role of civil disobedience in fighting fossil fuels”
Alice Cherry, Attorney and Co-Founder, Climate Defense Project.
“Although the defendants were disappointed that they were unable to present their case to a jury, the acquittal is a significant step forward for activists who have increasingly turned to the court system to press their demands for action on climate change. In three cases involving Valve Turners in other states who coordinated their actions with the Minnesota activists, defendants were convicted after being denied the opportunity to present a necessity defense. In Minnesota, today’s courtroom victory follows a lengthy effort to defend the activists’ right to argue climate necessity, a battle which went all the way to the state supreme court.”
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