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News / Northwest

Lobster boat blockade duo’s trial defense all about coal

The Columbian
Published: August 31, 2014, 5:00pm

BOSTON — Two men who used an old lobster boat to block a coal shipment to New England’s largest coal-burning power plant say they plan to argue at trial that their actions were necessary because of the threat posed by climate change.

Environmental activists Ken Ward and Jonathan “Jay” O’Hara say they don’t intend to dispute many facts of the case during their jury trial, which opens Sept. 8 in Fall River District Court. Instead, they want to prove global warming is real and that bold auction is needed to stabilize the planet, according to their website, LobsterBoatBlockade.org.

The two are charged with disturbing the peace, conspiracy, failure to act to avoid a collision and negligent operation of a motor vessel for the May 2013 incident at the Brayton Point Power Station.

Matthew Pawa, one of their lawyers, says the arguments at trial will be unusual because the defendants will contend their crimes were necessary to prevent a greater harm — the continued use of fossil fuels that increase global warming.

“Most people are not trying to embrace the fact that they’ve committed certain acts. The typical defense is that the prosecution hasn’t been able to prove its case at all,” he said Friday.

Pawa says the defendants will call on noted environmentalists Jim Hansen and Bill McKibben to serve as expert witnesses.

Ward, a 57-year-old former president of the National Environmental Law Center who now lives in Oregon, and O’Hara, a 32-year-old sailmaker from Massachusetts, have been documenting their case’s developments on their website, saying in a recent post they’ve raised more than $10,000 to help to pay their legal costs. They’re also rallying supporters to attend their trial.

“People seem to pay more attention to things in a courtroom, and your presence will help communicate exactly how much this matters,” Ward and O’Hara write. “And we hope this will be a special time for our movement, a chance to see our work in a new way and to be in fellowship with one another in a new way.”