Historic Trial Lets Activists Who Blocked Oil Train Cite Climate Change Threat in Their Defense

Five climate justice activists went on trial in Washington state Monday for tying themselves to a 25-foot tripod structure to block a mile-long oil train. The protesters, members of the activist group Rising Tide Seattle, demanded a halt of shipments of fossil fuels through the Northwest following a string of derailments in the U.S. and Canada. In an unprecedented move, the presiding judge will allow the defendants to argue their actions were necessary because of the threat of climate change. We speak with Abby Brockway, one of the members of the Delta 5, and Tim DeChristopher, founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, who spent 21 months in federal custody for posing as a bidder in 2008 to prevent oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land in his home state of Utah.

Below is an interview with DeChristopher and Brockway, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Washington state, where the trial in the case of five climate justice activists gets underway today. In September 2014, the group known as the Delta 5 tied themselves to a 25-foot tripod structure they had erected over railroad tracks in Everett, Washington, directly in front of a mile-long oil train. Abby Brockway, a Seattle resident and small business owner, sat near the top of the structure, 18 feet above the tracks, while the other four were locked to the legs of the tripod. This is Abby Brockway speaking on a cellphone during coverage of the action by the local Fox affiliate.

ABBY BROCKWAY: We’re ready to take more steps to get this done, because we’re running out of time. This is my state. I am so done. I have tried so hard. And so, this is just a second step. I don’t know what the third step is. I would like to talk to the governor. I would like political people that care, that are not with the fossil fuel but are with people, to come and meet us, because we are desperate, and we want to be heard. So this is our march.

AMY GOODMAN: The protesters, members of the activist group Rising Tide Seattle, demanded a halt of shipments of fossil fuels through the Northwest and called on Washington Governor Jay Inslee to reject permits for all new fossil fuel projects in the state, including proposed coal and oil terminals. The action shut down work at the rail yard, which is a staging ground for coal trains headed to Canadian export terminals and oil trains bound for Washington refineries.

For more, we go to Seattle, where we’re joined by Abby Brockway, one of the members of the Delta 5. She and four co-defendants go on trial today. In an unprecedented move, the presiding judge will allow the defendants to argue their actions were necessary because of the threat of climate change. We’re also joined by Tim DeChristopher, founder of the Climate Disobedience Center. He spent 21 months in federal custody for posing as a bidder in 2008 to prevent oil and gas drilling on thousands of acres of public land in his home state of Utah.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Abby, let’s begin with you. Talk about the significance of what’s happening today and the judge allowing you to enter a climate justice defense.

ABBY BROCKWAY: Yes, we are thrilled that we’re able to argue the necessity defense. We definitely found that it’s necessary to do this. This is our last chance to actually argue this. I mean, earlier on this week, we were denied the defense, and the judge made his decision reversed on Thursday. And so we’re going to move forward with a week-long trial and talk about why we had to be in the rail yard, trespassing on—in the rail yard—


ABBY BROCKWAY: —because—

AMY GOODMAN: Abby, talk about what you did over a year ago, exactly what you and the four other defendants did, and why you chose this place as the site of your climate protest.

ABBY BROCKWAY: We erected a tripod, and I climbed to the top, like you said, and locked down. And we did this with petitions in hand, insisting that the governor take action. We have been addressing this fossil fuel corridor that’s developed in Washington state and all along the West Coast. And it’s time to—I actually—listening to that clip again of me talking, it just reminded me that after attending hearing after hearing with these 20 different proposed fossil fuel projects that keep being proposed for the last several years, we have these two-minute hearings where you get to talk, and I never felt heard in these hearings. You know, I, along with thousands of other people, are turning out to these hearings and producing great, quality comments. And the Department of Ecology should be saying, "I hear the people." The Department of Ecology is our agency. It’s the people’s agency. And they’re designed to protect the people. But they’re actually not doing their job. They’re feeling pressure to listen to industry and just rubber-stamp these fossil fuel projects.

AMY GOODMAN: The train—the train you were trying to stop was a mile long?

ABBY BROCKWAY: Yes. Yep, it was a unit train headed to a refinery.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim DeChristopher, talk about the significance of the necessity defense and why you’re involved with this, the Climate Disobedience Center that you just set up.

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: Yeah, well, the first reason that I and all the other founders of the Climate Disobedience Center are out here in Seattle this week is to support Abby and the rest of her co-defendants, because we very strongly believe that when activists put themselves on the line and take real risks on behalf of not only our whole movement, but everyone who’s facing the impacts of climate change, they deserve to be supported. So we’re here just to get their back, first and foremost, but also because we see this case as really significant in terms of the broader public narrative around climate change. This is the first time that defendants who have taken civil disobedience action will be able to present a full defense, including climate scientists and oil train explosion experts, as well as sharing all their own testimony about why they were driven to take this action, why the government’s response to climate change is not adequate, why citizens are called to take action in this way on their own—and have six random jurors, that are not climate activists, that are just regular people who are selected for jury duty, make their own decision of whether or not this kind of action is justified. And to me, that involvement of the jury is really critical, because a fully informed and empowered jury is the, really, only difference between actual justice and mere legalism.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim, can you talk about why this train is referred to as a "bomb train"?

TIM DECHRISTOPHER: Yeah. You know, there have been an increase of oil trains all over this country, particularly those that are carrying Bakken oil from North Dakota and Montana, which is more explosive than other kinds of oil. It has more methane in it, and so that’s why we’ve seen a lot more of the catastrophic disasters, particularly the Lac-Mégantic explosion, that I know motivated Abby and that she can speak to more on that.

AMY GOODMAN: Abby, in our last minute, talk about this and what you’re most concerned about, why you’re willing to go to jail.

ABBY BROCKWAY: Yeah, like Tim said, the Lac-Mégantic really struck me, that explosion and the dangers that happened in 2013. And then a year later, I heard about this whistleblower that was fired for not protecting—he was checking some brakes, and the brakes—he was fired for delaying that. And the third thing that happened was right by my daughter’s school, an oil tanker car derailed. And that was a mile from my daughter’s school, and that was the straw that broke my back. I couldn’t do it anymore, to be that close to danger, one mile from my daughter’s school.

AMY GOODMAN: Lac-Mégantic in Quebec, which killed, in 2013, 47 people when the train exploded and derailed?

ABBY BROCKWAY: Yes. And so, seeing this same situation happen so close to my daughter’s school was something that made me decide to go to Action—to sign up for Action Camp and learn to climb. And that’s where I met Patrick Mazza and Liz Spoerri. And the three of us decided that we were going to join with two others and erect a tripod to stop a train, because we absolutely felt that this was the literal thing we had to do—to put ourselves in front of a train to say, "We will not take this anymore."

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Abby Brockway, co-defendant in the Delta 5 case, and Tim DeChristopher, founder of the Climate Disobedience Center. And we’ll post online an interview with Tim DeChristopher about the Oregon standoff.

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