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News / Northwest

Activist convicted in pipeline protest

Oregon man closed valve to call attention to climate change

By Associated Press
Published: November 23, 2017, 4:12pm

FORT BENTON, Mont. — An Oregon activist who was trying to call attention to climate change was found guilty of criminal charges on Wednesday for closing a valve last year on a pipeline carrying crude oil from Canada to the United States.

A Montana jury found Leonard Higgins of Portland guilty of criminal mischief and trespassing.

Higgins could face up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine on the felony criminal mischief charge. Trespassing is a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to six months in county jail and a $500 fine.

A sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 2. Court officials initially said Higgins would be sentenced Wednesday.

In a statement, Higgins said he plans to appeal.

Higgins entered a fenced site near Big Sandy, Mont., in October 2016 and closed a valve on pipeline operated by Spectra Energy. The pipeline carries oil from Canada’s tar sands region.

Activists simultaneously targeted other pipelines in Washington state, North Dakota and Minnesota.

The protesters called pipeline companies ahead of time to warn about their actions, and workers shut down four of the sites before protesters reached the valves. The pipeline targeted in Washington state was not operating at the time.

Spectra Energy is now owned by Enbridge Inc. of Calgary, Alberta. Spokesman Michael Barnes did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The company previously condemned the protests as “dangerous and reckless.”

Higgins, 65, a retired technology worker for the state of Oregon, said before the trial he wanted to present a “necessity defense” and argue that his act of civil disobedience was necessary because climate change is an emergency that cannot be ignored.

But District Judge Daniel Boucher said in an April order that testimony on climate change would be irrelevant to the charges. Boucher said he would not allow the trial to be used as a vehicle for political protest.

“I was disappointed and surprised by the verdict, but even more disappointed that I was not allowed a ‘necessity defense,’ and that I wasn’t allowed to talk about climate change as it related to my state of mind,” Higgins said Wednesday.

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