In February 4 of this year, four farmers and Catholic workers from the Midwest, myself included, attempted to shut off the flow of deadly, poisonous tar sands oil through Minnesota and the treaty territory of several Ojibwe nations. As the “Four Necessity Valve Turners,” we felt compelled to take this necessary, nonviolent action in the face of the imminent threat of the climate crisis – which, according the United Nations’ October 2018 report, requires an immediate response.
Given the dramatic failure by governmental bodies to adequately respond to this threat, we felt, as people of faith, that we had to act. Our intent was to responsibly call for a “timeout” from the pumping of poison through the heart of Mother Earth.
Our group – which besides myself includes Brenna Cussen-Anglada, Allyson Polman and Daniel Yildirim – was fully informed of the safest way to proceed with the shutdown process. We put no one in danger. We called Enbridge Energy Corporation (a Canadian company) before attempting to close the valve ourselves, suggesting that they shut off the pressure remotely, which they did. We took responsibility for our action, and waited for the police to arrive. We were charged with a felony and a misdemeanor, and we intend to invoke the necessity defense at our trial.
Actions such as these – combined with a strong Indigenous-led frontline resistance movement, pushback from the nonprofit environmental movement, and the development of new community-based viable green energy projects – seem to be scaring fossil fuel industries. That’s why they are insisting on harsher criminal charges, prosecution and consequences.
Since 2016, about three dozen states across the country have considered bills and executive orders explicitly designed to stop dissent against the fossil fuel industry.
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Since 2016, about three dozen states across the country have considered bills and executive orders explicitly designed to stop dissent against the fossil fuel industry. Many focus on pipelines that pump tar sands crude oil from Canada through the United States and out to foreign markets.
In March the South Dakota legislature passed and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed SB 189, the “Riot-Boosting” bill, which targets anyone who participates in, supports, or encourages protest against pipeline construction infrastructure. In Minnesota, Enbridge has spent 11 million dollars lobbying lawmakers and the state’s public utilities commissioners to push forward its Line 3 expansion project, which runs through pristine Mississippi headwaters and wild rice lakes.
Last year, the Minnesota House and Senate passed a punitive bill to end a state water quality standard designed to protect wild rice that was (thankfully) vetoed by then-Governor Mark Dayton. However, with the recent delay in obtaining the necessary permits for Enbridge to go forward with construction, stronger bills against dissent are heading towards the legislature in hopes that current Governor Tim Walz will capitulate. (Both Dayton and Waltz are Democrats.)
We believe that laws should protect the common good and the community, not corporate interests, and particularly not foreign corporate interests.
As for the Four Necessity Valve Turners, our case will be tried before a twelve-person jury, who will decide whether ours was an act of criminality or one of necessity. But the last word will not come from the jury, the judge, or the lawmakers. It will come from our Mother Earth herself.