A Skagit County jury Wednesday did not convict a climate activist who says he shut off the flow of tar-sands oil in the Trans Mountain Pipeline in an act of sympathy with Dakota Access Pipeline opponents, and to defend the planet against global warming.
Ken Ward, 60, of Corbett, Ore., said he was startled by the hung jury after a three-day trial and five hours of deliberation on felony charges for shutting a valve on the pipeline near Burlington last October.
During the trial in Skagit County Superior Court, Ward said he never denied his actions, and showed the jury a video of himself cutting chains to access the valve on the pipeline, and turning it to shut down the flow of oil. His only defense was his concern for the climate.
Apparently they cared more about climate cataclysm than enforcing the law. It’s quite astounding.
Ken Ward, 60, who faced felony charges for shutting a valve on the pipeline near Burlington last October.
“I thought they would just convict me, but they didn’t,” said Ward, who was facing up to 20 years on charges of burglary and sabotage.
“Apparently they cared more about climate cataclysm than enforcing the law. It’s quite astounding.”
It is actually the second time Ward has escaped conviction or prosecution for a climate action. In a 2014 case, popularly dubbed the Lobster Boat Blockade, a district attorney in Massachusetts refused to prosecute Ward for using a lobster boat to block the passage of a barge loaded with 40,000 tons of coal headed to a power plant.
Four others involved in the Oct. 11 shutdown of tar-sands oil pipelines still face trial in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, Ward said. They coordinated their actions shutting down pipelines across the northern tier of the U.S. to stop transport of tar-sands oil for a day. No damage resulted to the lines, and no one was injured.
Ali Hounsell, spokeswoman for Trans Mountain, reiterated the company’s concern for the action.
“We would like to express our support for the efforts of the authorities as it relates to this case,” Hounsell said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Kinder Morgan’s top priority is the safety of the communities in which we operate and we are steadfast in our disappointment at the reckless actions of those involved that put both the environment and communities at risk.”
Prosecutors are expected to announce soon whether they will retry the case against Ward.
The failure to reach a verdict comes at a time when tensions are rising over pipelines all over the country. First Nations have vowed to stop construction of an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline just approved by the Canadian government. The expansion will double the flow of tar-sands oil from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver, and increase sevenfold the transit of oil tankers through the Salish Sea.
President Trump also last week issued executive orders intending to spur completion of the stalled Dakota Access Pipeline, and to start anew the effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline, blocked by then-President Obama.
Ward, formerly deputy director for Greenpeace USA and former president of the National Environmental Law Center, now leads the Climate Disobedience Center, dedicated to direct action against fossil-fuel projects.
The tar-sands action was intended to support indigenous people in their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Ward said.
“We did this in solidarity with the Standing Rock fight, in response to the call for prayer and direct action.”
Ward said he expects more citizen dissent, and widespread acts of civil disobedience to push back against Trump’s embrace for more mining, drilling and transport of fossil fuels.
“It is a stronger, more powerful imperative to engage in this kind of dissent and direct action.” Ward said.