Climate activist Ken Ward gets no jail time for turning off a valve on the TransMountain pipeline carrying tar-sands oil to the U.S. from Canada in October 2016.
Climate activist Ken Ward, one of the “valve turners” who shut off the flow of tar-sands oil to the U.S. from Canada in October 2016, walked free Friday — without fines, restitution or jail time.
Skagit County Superior Court Judge Michael Rickert imposed a 30-day sentence with credit for the two days already served by Ward when he was arrested after shutting off a valve on the TransMountain pipeline in Burlington. The judge suspended the rest of the sentence in lieu of 30 hours of community service to be served in Skagit County — which Ward said he was looking forward to.
Ward is the first of five defendants who shut off oil valves and face trial in various states. Juries deadlocked twice before Ward was convicted of a single, second-degree burglary charge, for cutting the lock and entering a fenced area to shut off the valve.
Ward never denied his actions and indeed at the trial showed video of his action. His only defense was that the acts were necessary to defend the Earth because all other options to combat catastrophic climate change, including political action, had failed.
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Lauren Regan, Ward’s attorney, said Ward will appeal his loss on his so-called necessity defense.
Ward called the sentence fair, and said he will refrain from further direct action during a six-month period of probation also imposed by the judge. Beyond that, he wasn’t certain.
Ward had faced up to 90 days in jail.
Since his action, the flow of oil — actually stopped for four hours — not only was quickly resumed, but the TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to the coast has been approved by the Canadian federal government for doubled capacity, with a twin line planned for construction by Kinder Morgan.
Officials at Kinder Morgan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Expansion of the pipeline is opposed by environmental groups and tribes and First Nations on both sides of the border. Developer Kinder Morgan has obtained its financing and hopes to begin construction this fall. However, the project also faces multiple lawsuits.
“I can only hope for vigorous, concerted action everywhere fossil-fuel projects are proposed,” Ward said. “Not only for new projects but to question the validity of existing projects.”
Ward said he feels deep pessimism about the fate of the Earth, which he argued is hurtling toward catastrophic climate change because of fossil-fuel burning. “To feel anything else is another form of denial.”
It is the second time Ward has escaped a jail sentence for climate actions. The prosecution against him for using a lobster boat to blockade delivery of coal to a power plant in southeastern Massachusetts in 2013 was dropped after the district attorney declared the planet was at risk of climate change and announced he would join Ward at an upcoming climate march.