Jury selection and opening arguments began today in the trial of an Oregon man who sought to call attention to climate change by shutting down an oil pipeline near Big Sandy.
Officials charged Leonard Higgins with criminal mischief and trespassing after he allegedly broke into a fenced area and closed a Spectra Energy pipeline valve in 2016.
But the 65-year-old from Portland says his act was one of desperation.
“It had nothing to do with causing criminal mischief. In fact, it was on behalf of all of us who are threatened by climate change,” Higgins said.
Higgins admits to the shutting down the valve, and he’s using the threat of climate change as his defense against criminal mischief.
But District Judge Daniel Boucher says testimony on climate change is irrelevant, and he won’t allow the defendant to place U.S. energy policy on trial. Higgins says that’s misguided.
“I can’t see him not allowing me to speak to my intent, that’s a basic part of the requirement that the prosecution has for proving that I’m guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Activists in a parallel case in Minnesota convinced a judge to let them present arguments that the threat of climate change justifies extreme action.
If Higgins is found guilty of criminal mischief, he faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a $50,000 dollar fine. The trespassing charge comes with a maximum penalty of six months in county jail and a $5,000 fine.
In September, the state’s first ever climate assessment predicted Montana’s average temperature would rise by as much as six degrees over the next thirty years, leading to smaller snowpacks, increased drought and more severe wildfires.