Climate activists face decades in jail for shutting down oil pipelines

Alison Morrow reports

Climate activists from the Pacific Northwest face decades in jail for shutting down oil pipelines across the country last month. They still believe their message is more important than their freedom.

"What we are doing is acting on the truth. That's an incredibly powerful thing, and they're scared," Ken Ward said.

Ward, a resident of Portland, traveled to Anacortes at the same time Seattle residents Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston found themselves in Minnesota.

Along with several other activists in North Dakota and Montana on October 11, they turned emergency shut off valves for five pipelines that transport tar sands oil from Canada to the USA.

"We needed something that would be so far outside the bounds of what normally happens that it had some chance of waking people up, at least some people who can wake other people up," Johnston said. "The situation with climate change is so dire that my personal freedom for a period of years is not on the radar for what's important."

That day, Kinder Morgan sent KING 5 the following statement about the action in Anacortes:

"Earlier this morning, reckless trespassers broke into a location on Trans Mountain's Puget Sound pipeline system in Washington State.  At the time of the incident, we were not operating through that portion of the line and their actions did not cause the release of any product.  Local authorities responded and three individuals were arrested. We are conducting a thorough inspection to ensure the integrity of the pipeline system."

Ward believes his action had an effect regardless of whether the line was in use at the time.

"They're saying it's ineffectual because they want it to be ineffectual. What else would they say? This was powerful? It was powerful. Absolutely it was powerful," he said.

The youngest activist, support staff member Reed Ingalls, is a 22-year old now facing a decade in jail.

"As a young person on this planet, I'm going to be living through this century. Any children I might have will also be living through these consequences," he said.

The activists called oil companies ahead of time to warn them, raising questions about safety and security around the oil lines.

"I'm not an athlete. I'm not a superhero. We just walked in and we did it. Safety and security are the wrong words. Safety and security have nothing to do with what these companies do to our country," said Michael Foster of Seattle.

They acted in solidarity with Standing Rock protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline. A journalist was arrested there, just like the journalists documenting the pipeline action.

They call it an increasingly aggressive reaction they've rarely seen until now.

"Fossil fuel companies are terrified of the images and stories getting out. It makes them look terrible and they are terrible," Klapstein said. "I truly feel there is a concerted effort to make war on First Amendment rights."

The activists and journalists are all facing jail time, and some could die in jail if sentenced fully on every charge.

Even still, they say they'd do it all over again.

"If people are not acting as though there is an emergency, people don't believe there is an emergency. So for me, this is all about acting consistent with the threat that I'm seeing," said Leonard Higgins.

Copyright 2016 KING


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