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The Climate Change Defense? Citing Global Warming, DA Drops Charges Against Anti-Coal Activists

September 09, 2014
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Image Credit: lobsterboatblockade.org

In a surprise move, District Attorney Sam Sutter of Bristol, Massachusetts, has dropped criminal charges against two climate activists who were set to go on trial Monday for blocking a shipment of 40,000 tons of coal. In May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used their lobster boat to prevent a delivery of the coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. For their trial, Ward and O’Hara had planned to invoke the "necessity defense," arguing that their actions were justified by how the coal industry worsens the climate change that threatens our planet. In an unprecedented announcement, District Attorney Sutter all but adopted their reasoning and dropped the charges. "Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced," Sutter said outside the courthouse, explaining his decision. "In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been sorely lacking.”

Tune in to Democracy Now! on Wednesday for our interview with the two climate activists, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara, and District Attorney Sam Sutter.


TRANSCRIPT

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

AARON MATÉ: We end today’s show in Massachusetts looking at a case known as the lobster boat blockade. Two climate activists were set to go on trial Monday for blocking a shipment of 40,000 tons of coal. Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used their lobster boat to block a delivery of the coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. Ward and O’Hara faced charges stemming from their act of civil disobedience. But in a surprise move, the Bristol district attorney, Sam Sutter, announced he had instead dropped the criminal charges and reduced three other charges to civil offenses. This is Sutter speaking just outside the courthouse.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SAM SUTTER: The decision that Robert Kidd and I—that’s the assistant district attorney who handled this case—reached today was a decision that certainly took into consideration the cost to the taxpayers in Somerset, but was made with our concern for their children, the children of Bristol County and beyond, in mind. Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking. I am heartened that we were able to forge an agreement that both parties were pleased with and that appeared to satisfy the police and those here in sympathy with the individuals who were charged. I am also extremely pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that symbolizes our commitment at the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office to take a leadership role on this issue.

CROWD MEMBER: Amen!

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SAM SUTTER: Thank you. ... So that’s very inspiring to me, and I will carry that with me in my heart. Thank you.

REPORTER: Will you be a model for across the country?

DISTRICT ATTORNEY SAM SUTTER: Well, I certainly will be in New York in two weeks, how’s that? And I’m walking around with Bill McKibben’s article from Rolling Stone a couple of months ago. How do you like that? So, you know where my heart is.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter. As he spoke outside the courthouse, the protesters also spoke.

KEN WARD: They’re still burning coal over there. In fact, they’re burning twice as much coal last year than they did the year before. And this is a plant that’s supposed to be phasing out. That’s the problem. I mean, we just found out this summer that the West Antarctica ice shelf is in collapse. Nothing we can do about it. Ten feet of sea-level rise. In that context, it seems to me the only thing one can do is put yourself in the way.

AMY GOODMAN: That was climate activist Ken Ward. And we’ll be joined by both the Bristol County district attorney, Sam Sutter, as well as the activists, tomorrow on Democracy Now!


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