Activists Are Using the “Climate Necessity Defense” in Court — and Winning

Jessica Reznicek could’ve gotten away with disassembling bits and pieces of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in Iowa and South Dakota in 2016 and 2017, slicing through metal with an oxyacetylene cutting welding torch in broad daylight without detection; but eluding the law wasn’t her primary purpose. As she made clear in a claim of responsibility, dated July 24, 2017, she wanted her sabotage of Energy Transfer, LLC’s equipment to spark “public discourse surrounding nonviolent direct action.” Though not a formal legal instrument, the claim expresses her intentions, motivations and aspirations in taking the actions that she did. After the exhaustion of all the usual tactics, after all the public comments, petitions, hunger strikes, marches, rallies, boycotts and encampments failed to stop DAPL’s construction, she had to face her truth: “[A] private corporation … has run rampantly across our country seizing land and polluting our nation’s water supply. You may not agree with our tactics, but you can clearly see the necessity of them in light of the broken federal government and the corporations they protect.”

Though the pipeline has never been properly permitted to send oil under the Missouri River, every day 570,000 barrels of oil (with an expanded capacity of 750,000 barrels and ultimately 1.1 million barrels) move through it. The current flow represents approximately 40 percent of the output from the Bakken oil fields per day. On September 10, 2020, the Army Corps of Engineers published its intention to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement, but at present the full extent of the pipeline’s contribution to climate change is unknown. In 2016 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that North Dakota’s Bakken oil and gas field was responsible for leaking 275,000 tons of methane per year; and researchers at the University of Michigan found that the combined field in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2 percent (about 250,000 tons per year) of the globe’s ethane.

Read the article on TRUTHOUT