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2014-02-03

Michigan Activists Face Up to 2 Years in Prison for Protesting Oil Pipeline Behind 2010 Spill

Guests

Christopher Wahmhoff, part of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands. In June, he was arrested for skateboarding deep inside a pipe of the Enbridge pipeline and refusing to come out. Wahmhoff is also an organizer for Occupy Kalamazoo.

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Three environmentalists have just been convicted for their role in nonviolently protesting the construction of tar sands pipelines in Michigan. Last summer, they tied themselves to excavators at an Enbridge Inc. construction site to stall work on a pipeline that had ruptured in 2010 and dumped about 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. On Friday, the protesters — Barbara Carter, Vicci Hamlin and Lisa Leggio — were found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing, as well as resisting and obstructing police, which carries a maximum two-year felony. We are joined from Grand Rapids, Michigan, by Christopher Wahmhoff of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands. In June, Wahmhoff protested the Enbridge pipeline by skateboarding deep inside the pipe and refusing to come out.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the latest news that three environmentalists have just been convicted for their role in nonviolently protesting the construction of tar sands pipelines in Michigan. Last summer, they tied themselves to excavators at an Enbridge construction site to stall work on a pipeline that had ruptured in 2010 and dumped about 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. On Friday, the protesters—Barbara Carter, Vicci Hamlin and Lisa Leggio—were found guilty of misdemeanor trespassing, as well as resisting and obstructing police, which carries a maximum two-year felony. The three were denied bond, remanded to the Ingham County Jail pending a March sentencing hearing. Shortly before the verdict was announced, Lisa Leggio and Barbara Carter spoke to the press.

LISA LEGGIO: Long as tar sands and extraction and pipelines and refinement, MI CATS aren’t going anywhere.

BARBARA CARTER: And even if we’re not on the front lines, we’ll be behind the scenes. You know, we’ll be doing the direct support next time.

LISA LEGGIO: Yeah, instead of the direct acting. And what’s even great—and I feel victorious no matter what—is all of these people, like, you don’t typically—this little town of Mason, you don’t see protesters outside all the time. You don’t see that. So, all of the potential jurors, I—if I were a potential juror, I would be like, "What is this about? What is Pipeline 6B, this oil spill? I remember hearing that." I mean, the whole goal was to get awareness. So we’re going—we’re getting that out to even more and more and more people. So, even if we’re found guilty, we consider it a victory, because that was the whole goal of what we did, was to bring to light the expansion of the pipeline and the spill and Enbridge and all of that. Even if you don’t see a direct link—we didn’t stop this pipeline, obviously. It’s still being expanded. It’s still being—you know, they’re still doing this thing. But don’t doubt for one second the ripple effect of what you do. You throw one little stone, and it creates a ripple. Do not forget that.

AMY GOODMAN: Lisa Leggio and Barbara Carter, two of the three activists who were just convicted of a felony and misdemeanor for nonviolently protesting the expansion of the Enbridge tar sands pipelines in Michigan.

Well, for more, we go to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where we’re joined by Christopher Wahmhoff, who is part of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands. In June, he was arrested when he protested the Enbridge pipeline by skateboarding deep inside the pipe and refusing to come out. Wahmhoff is also an organizer for Occupy Kalamazoo.

Christopher, welcome to Democracy Now! First, explain what you did. You skateboarded inside an oil pipeline?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Yeah, thank you for having me. Yeah, this pipeline was joining with—this was new replacement that was joining with old pieces of pipe they are still using. And I took a skateboard and went in the pipeline within a half-mile of the Kalamazoo River spill site, and—

AMY GOODMAN: The police and others were shooting oxygen in to you?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Yes. We had thought, with it being a new pipeline, there weren’t going to be any chemicals, and we were wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you were arrested?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Yes, I was, arrested and charged.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you served time in jail for these protests?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: No, we were given a motion to quash, because I started speaking with the police before they got a chance to give me orders. And because of that, I avoided a command, and my motion to quash was granted.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about why you and the most recent protesters feel so strongly about this? What is happening in Michigan?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Well, I’m glad you said that. I actually brought some visual examples. I heard that the tar sand isn’t tar and that it’s just oil. This is a piece of tar sand oil recovered from the Kalamazoo River, where over a million gallons of this and unknown chemicals, that we can’t even get the EPA to acknowledge, are all over the Kalamazoo River. You can see it breaks apart pretty easily. And we feel like Kalamazoo has blatantly ignored 300,000 people that are impacted by one of the most toxic oil spills on the planet and the largest online oil spill in U.S. history, aren’t getting a lot of support from our leaders or the EPA, the DEQ or anyone. So, we have children that are getting seizures, and we have people that are sick in the Kalamazoo River. And if our leaders aren’t going to act, we’re going to.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what the spill was in 2010?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Yeah, it was over one million gallons of bitumen tar sand, tar sand oil, that spilled and then merged with the bottom of the Kalamazoo River. It’s the first spill of its kind, so the company, Enbridge, was completely unprepared for how to deal with a spill of this size and magnitude.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, how does this pipeline fit into the TransCanada pipeline from the tar sands down to the Texas refinery?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Well, it fits because it’s the same highly toxic oil, by the same companies, that average one spill a week, that have the deplorable safety records. There is, of course, the carbon argument, but even if you omit the carbon argument, there is an issue of safety that is very, very blatantly, clearly not met by these companies.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the three activists who were arrested, the three women who face two years in prison, can you explain what they did and what will happen now that they have been convicted?

CHRISTOPHER WAHMHOFF: Well, they—for the same reasons I went into the pipeline, they locked onto construction equipment in Stockbridge right after spending time with homeowners that are getting their land condemned by this company for this pipeline. Unlike myself, they were convicted and immediately jailed. And they did that for their families and their kids, and I’m glad they’re being acknowledged for that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Christopher Wahmhoff, I want to thank you for being with us, part of the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands. In June, he protested the Enbridge pipeline by skateboarding for hours deep inside the pipeline and refusing to come out. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, One Billion Rising.

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