Prosecution Backs Down--Reduces Charges to Avoid Trial of 13 West Roxbury Pipeline Protesters
Activists say they were denied a chance to present a ‘necessity defense’ against a dangerous gas pipeline
Boston – A long awaited local trial of 13 environmental activists, arrested in 2016 for their civil disobedience in protesting a major new fracked gas pipeline in West Roxbury, was suddenly and surprisingly canceled late last week by the prosecuting attorney. The original charges of trespassing and disturbing the peace were reduced to “civil infractions,” basically the equivalent of a parking ticket.
By reducing the charges, the prosecutor has avoided what could have been a groundbreaking legal case. The action effectively denies the 13 defendants a jury trial, although the judge had signaled an inclination to allow a “necessity defense” — an argument that actions blocking construction of the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline were justified in order to avoid the greater harms of climate change and threats to public safety posed by this pipeline.
Lawyers for the 13 activists suggested there may even have been a “cause and effect” – that charges were reduced in order to avoid the trial for which the defendants, their legal team, eight expert witnesses, and many supporters had prepared.
Activists said they were disappointed that they would not get the chance to present their case to a jury of their peers but still felt their resistance had a positive impact. “We forced Spectra to admit to the judge that they did not have and do not have a safety plan for the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline and likely any projects going forward,” said Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Earth and Environment Dept. at Boston University and one of the defendants.
Added Marla Marcum, Co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center and a spokesperson for the group, “We knew the attempt to take these cases to trial was a long shot, but as climate activists in 2018, we know that long shots and moral imagination are some of the most promising tools for culture-shifting transformation.”
“What we stood for is true, and that truth is in the process of coming to light, regardless of the fact that the system is unable to fully hear it right now,” Said Karenna Gore, daughter of former Vice President Al Gore and Director of the Center for Earth Ethics of at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
All 13 defendants will be at the West Roxbury District courthouse on Tuesday morning, March 27 at 8am, as required. They will be available to speak to press and may have a chance to make brief statements before the court.
Many of the defendants and their expert witnesses, including noted climate change activist Bill McKibben, who was expecting to testify at the trial in support of these activists, will participate at a special forum in Jamaica Plain Forum on Wednesday night, March 28 at 7pm: More information can be found at: https://jamaicaplainforum.org/event/testimony-from-12-defendants-of-the-w-roxbury-lateral-pipeline/.
The defendants are among the roughly 200 protesters who had been arrested as part of a massive campaign against this pipeline beginning in early in 2015. Initially concerned with local safety-- the risk of locating a high pressure facility in a densely populated neighborhood and across the street from an active blasting quarry—protesters gained support from Boston Mayor Walsh and the entire Boston City Council, Congressman Lynch, Senators Markey and Warren, State Representative Coppinger and State Senator Rush, as well as residents and officials from the Town of Dedham through which the pipeline also runsran.
The City of Boston and Town and Dedham also filed lawsuits against Spectra Energy, the pipeline contractor, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), raising questions of conflict of interest and lack of due process. Neither lawsuit was successful, and the West Roxbury Lateral pipeline and related facilities went into operation last year despite continuing concerns about safety raised by the City’s first responders.
The West Roxbury defendants and their supporters remain committed to opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure in Boston and beyond. Mary Boyle, a 77 year old retired educator from West Roxbury who held a public vigil almost every morning for over a year of pipeline construction, added, “The people who came to our neighborhood to help us fight this pipeline give me hope that we can build enough people power to stop similar projects. Their partnership in this struggle has helped me in dealing with the frustrations I feel in the face of injustice in society. I didn’t spend time fighting pipelines before one came to my neighborhood, but now I am working with others to oppose a pipeline project in the Back Bay.”