Charges dismissed against climate change protesters who were on Enbridge property
A state district court judge Tuesday dismissed felony property damage charges against three protesters who planned to defend their actions — tampering with Enbridge pipeline equipment — as a justified response to climate change.
Acting on a motion from defense attorneys, Clearwater County District Court Judge Robert Tiffany threw out the charges, ruling there wasn’t enough evidence regarding the October 2016 protest to prove property damage. The incident took place about 35 miles northwest of Bemidji. The trial started Monday in Bagley.
Four protesters, all members of the activist group Direct Climate Action, were originally charged after breaking through a fence around oil pipeline equipment, and then closing two emergency valves on two pipelines. One protester took video of the others.
Emily Nesbitt Johnston and Annette Klapstein, both of the Seattle area, closed the valves and were charged with felony damage to property, aiding and abetting felony damage and gross misdemeanor trespassing. Steven Liptay was charged with the same, though he’s not part of the current trial. Benjamin Joldersma was on trial for conspiracy.
Some charges had been dismissed before the trial started Monday with jury selection. Legal arguments had barely begun Tuesday when Tiffany dismissed the remaining charges.
The defendants planned to mount a “necessity defense,” essentially admitting they committed what normally might be a crime, but was a necessary action to prevent a greater harm. In the Enbridge case, the defendants have argued they were preventing a greater environmental harm caused by fossil fuel use.
Tiffany allowed the necessity defense, but the state appealed his ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In April, the appeals court, on a 2-1 vote, ruled to allow the necessity defense, saying the state failed to show that the defense would significantly reduce the likelihood of a successful prosecution.
Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003