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Anti-Coal Climate Activists March with Massachusetts District Attorney Who Almost Prosecuted Them

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Earlier this month, two climate activists were set to go on trial in Massachusetts for blocking the shipment of 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point power plant, a 51-year-old facility that is one of the region’s largest contributors to greenhouse gases. But in a surprise move, local prosecutor Sam Sutter dropped the criminal charges and reduced three other charges to civil offenses, calling climate change one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced. On Sunday, the activists, Jay O’Hara and Ken Ward, marched with Sutter at the People’s Climate March in New York City.

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

AMY GOODMAN: And now we are joined by an unusual man. His name is District Attorney Sam Sutter. He’s a Massachusetts district attorney who, in the last year, has been involved with prosecuting two environmentalists. The environmentalists are named Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara. Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara, maybe you can describe what it is you did over a year ago, and then why you’re standing today with the man who prosecuted you.

KEN WARD: Certainly. Over a year ago, we took a 32-foot-long wooden lobster boat, and we anchored it in the path of a tanker coal cargo ship carrying 40,000 tons of coal, in order to try to stop it and stop burning coal, because of the impact on the environment, climate.

AMY GOODMAN: Describe that moment, that day.

JAY O’HARA: So, it was a beautiful cloudless day, and we were in this little white lobster boat in front of this mountain of coal at the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, and this huge, hulking black freighter was coming in. And we were anchored there for most of the day and pretty much blocked the coal for the day and ended up working with the Coast Guard and working with the local police, and eventually finding ourselves in court just about two weeks ago, where we met Mr. Sutter here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, did you just meet outside of the courtroom today?

SAM SUTTER: No, no, we actually—we met that day, but then we’ve gotten to know each other over the last couple of days, so—and we’re sort of forging an alliance of sorts. I mean, they’re right, very right, on the issue; obviously, their action technically broke the law. But we found the perfect solution that day: dismiss the criminal conspiracy, reduce the other charges to a civil infraction. And so, now it’s a question of where we—what we do going forward. But as I said, they’re right as rain on the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: So, did they open your eyes? I mean, what happened when a year ago this case was put on your desk? You’re the district attorney. These guys stopped—what was it? Forty thousand—



AMY GOODMAN: —tons of coal from coming into one of the largest regional coal plants in the area.

SAM SUTTER: Well, it’s a nonviolent case, obviously, and I’ve got three cities with gang violence and gun violence. We’ve done a lot to reduce it, but it’s still there. So it wasn’t a prominent case. My press secretary kept saying to me, “This is a big case. This is a big case.” But I didn’t really focus on it until about a week to go before the trial. And then, when I did, I mean, I think that the science is now reaching the point, as far as global warming, that it’s just overwhelming. I mean, you have to be a modern-day Luddite not to accept what’s taking place and try to do—and now the question is: What are we going to try to do about it? And that’s why I’m here today, and that’s why we’re getting to know each other better.

AMY GOODMAN: So are you marching together in the Massachusetts delegation?

SAM SUTTER: I believe so.


KEN WARD: Absolutely. That’s where we’re headed after this.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ever think this day would come?

KEN WARD: Blown away.

JAY O’HARA: It’s pretty surprising, but I think when we, as activists, as people of faith, who really care about this, step out and do something bold, it creates the space for others to step out and be bold, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us. I want to thank you, District Attorney Sam Sutter, as well as Jay and Ken.

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