Unexpected things tend to happen when Ken Ward goes to trial. In 2014, he and fellow climate activist Jay O’Hara, having blockaded a coal tanker with a 32-foot lobster boat at Brayton Point in Massachusetts, saw their felony charges dropped and the district attorney join their side.
On January 30, in a courtroom in Skagit County, Washington, Ward—deputy director of Greenpeace USA in the 1990s and former president of the National Environmental Law Center—stood trial on felony charges for safely, nonviolently shutting down Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain tar-sands oil pipeline. Though he faced up to 20 years in prison, Ward did not contest the facts of his case—indeed, he and his defense team provided a video of his action. Nevertheless, though Ward was denied the use of a “necessity defense” by the presiding judge (who during a pre-trial hearing had cast doubt on settled climate science), the jury was unable to reach a verdict, and a mistrial was declared. It was a stunning outcome, hailed by Ward’s supporters far and wide as a victory of conscience. The prosecutors have decided that Ward will be retried, with the new trial date to be determined.
Ward, 60, was one of five nonviolent protesters who on October 11 of last year, with the support of the Climate Disobedience Center (co-founded in 2015 by Ward, O’Hara, and fellow activists Marla Marcum and Tim DeChristopher), turned the emergency block valves on pipelines in Washington, Montana, Minnesota, and North Dakota, successfully shutting down the flow of tar-sands oil into the United States from Canada. Reuters reported that the action “shook the North American energy industry,” calling it “the biggest coordinated move on US energy infrastructure ever undertaken by environmental protesters.” All five face serious felony charges, as do two members of their support team. One of the documentary filmmakers who captured the action in Minnesota faces misdemeanor charges, and filmmakers covering the other actions faced charges that have since been dropped.