Pipeline Protesters Use the Necessity Defense

By Robert May, an activist with ResistAIM.

13494887_1361158817234532_4882938590630017482_nOn June 22nd, a courtroom drama played out before Cortlandt Manor Town Justice Daniel McCathy that has broad and sweeping national implications. It involves gas pipeline protesters who are using an innovative and largely untested legal strategy called the climate necessity defense. It is a daring gambit that seeks to shift criminality from the protesters to the target of their protest, in this case the Spectra Energy company, currently expanding a methane gas pipeline from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania, under the Hudson River, within 105’ of critical structures of the aging and troubled Indian Point nuclear power plant, through three New England states to Boston Harbor for eventual exportation.  

Defense counsel Marty Stoler is seeking to establish that the defendants’ actions are protected by the First Amendment and were necessary since all other legal channels had been exhausted; or as Cortlandt Councilman Seth Freach stated on the stand, “We were out of options.”

The defense is built on the assertion that the real criminal is Spectra since they are constructing an illegally segmented pipeline, endangering the health and safety of residents along the pipeline route and are in defiance of elected officials who have ordered a halt to pipeline construction.
Particularly damning to the prosecution was the testimony of scientist Dr. Paul Moscowitz who revealed that Spectra knowingly and systematically releases recognized carcinogens from its pipelines into the air.

For its part, the prosecution seemed content to establish that the protesters’ actions led to traffic delays. The irony here is rich, since Spectra construction vehicles halt local traffic on an almost daily basis.

What these brave protesters have taught is that the time for being polite is over. If we’re going to avert the most disastrous impacts of climate change, it’s going to take all of us working together and demanding a clean energy revolution. That’s just what we’ll come together to do on Sunday July 24th in Philadelphia –one day before the Democratic National Convention. I hope you’ll join us for the March for a Clean Energy Revolution to call for an end to fracking and its ruinous infrastructure and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels.

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