Leonard Higgins, 65, of Portland, is charged with trespassing and felony criminal mischief for breaking into a fenced site near Big Sandy, Montana, to turn off a valve on a Spectra Energy pipeline in October 2016.

Share story

BILLINGS, Mont. — An Oregon man goes on trial in Montana on Tuesday in the latest criminal prosecution against activists who sought to call attention to climate change by shutting down pipelines carrying crude from Canada’s oil-sands region to the United States.

Leonard Higgins, 65, of Portland, is charged with trespassing and felony criminal mischief for breaking into a fenced site near Big Sandy, Montana, to turn off a valve on a Spectra Energy pipeline in October 2016. Activists simultaneously targeted other lines in Washington state, North Dakota and Minnesota.

Higgins wants to tell jurors that his act of civil disobedience was necessary because climate change is an emergency that can’t be ignored, he told The Associated Press.

But District Judge Daniel Boucher has indicated that he won’t allow the trial to be used as a vehicle for political protest. Boucher said in an April order that testimony on climate change would be irrelevant to the charges faced by Higgins.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“The energy policy of the United States is not on trial, nor will this court allow Higgins to attempt to put it on trial,” Boucher wrote in the order. “Mr. Higgins is on trial for his voluntary acts.”

“The important thing about a jury trial is a chance to argue about the climate emergency,” said Higgins, a former information-technology worker for the Oregon state government. “We chose tar-sands oil and consider it along with coal to be the dirtiest carbon emitters. They’re the ones we should reduce.”

Higgins faces up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine if convicted of criminal mischief. The trespassing charge, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of six months in county jail and a $500 fine.

A second man, Reed Ingalls, is awaiting trial on charges that he aided and abetted Higgins by filming his actions and uploading the footage to Higgins’ social-media account.