Climate Activists Who Chained Themselves To Tracks Head To Court

Jan 11, 2016
Originally published on January 12, 2016 8:40 am

Five environmental activists who chained themselves to train tracks in Everett to protest oil and coal trains begin trial in Snohomish County District Court on Monday.

The activists face criminal charges alleging they trespassed on BNSF Railway property and blocked an oil train for eight hours on Sept. 2, 2014.

More than 100 people gathered at the Woodland Park Presbyterian Church in Seattle Sunday for a special climate justice service and blessing on the activists, who refer to themselves as the “Delta 5” (after the BNSF Delta railyard in Everett where they erected their human blockade). Several members of the Delta 5 attended the service.

The trial is drawing national attention because it’s believed to be the first allowing a “necessity defense” for climate-related civil disobedience. The judge has ruled that the defendants can argue that their actions were justified because of the threat of climate change.

A documentary crew is on site to record the trial, and activists who have committed acts of climate disobedience elsewhere in the country have come to show support.

Jay O’Hara, a sail maker from Massachusetts who attended the service on Sunday, made headlines in 2013 when he and a friend used their 32-foot lobster boat to block a ship from delivering 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts.

On the day of the trial, Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter dropped the criminal charges because he said he sympathized with the need for stronger action on climate change.

Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF, said actions like this can have a big effect on a rail system beyond one oil train.

"One train can be millions in revenue," he said. "When you have a backup on a system, this impacts yard activity, the ports are impacted from ships, then you have passenger and commuter (traffic) in the corridor. It’s a time-sensitive, very busy terminal area. We can’t tolerate it. They can voice their opinion, but we don’t want them on our property. We’re trying to conduct our business."

(The Delta 5 are: Abby Brockway, Michael Lapointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie Minchew and Liz Spoerri.)

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