April 23, 2018


Eugene, OR — Today is a historic moment for climate activists in the U.S. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a lower trial court’s ruling that will allow four climate activists to provide evidence of the necessity of their actions to a jury of their peers. This is the first time that an appellate court has ruled in favor of climate activists permitting the use of the “necessity defense.” Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center and Tim Phillips of the Minneapolis law office of Joshua R. Williams will represent the activists at trial, with assistance from Kelsey Skaggs of the Climate Defense Project. The court has not yet set a trial date.

The activists, often referred to as the “valve turners,” were part of a coordinated effort that temporarily halted the flow of tar-sands oil through pipelines crossing the U.S. and Canadian border. They will be allowed to present evidence from international experts to explain the harms of climate change and how the extraction of Canadian tar-sands oil gravely contributes to climate change. The activists will also be permitted to testify on their own behalf as to the necessity of their actions.

“Our clients have risked their liberty to protect future generations from the growing consequences of climate change and to continue to grow the mass movement of Americans who believe that people and the planet are more important than corporate profits. It is high time that a jury of regular people have an opportunity to weigh in on this extremely important issue. We are optimistic about sharing our case with this Clearwater County jury and testing the strength of the judicial process,” said Regan.

Valve turners Annette Klapstein and Emily Johnston face multiple felonies. Two other defendants, videographer Steve Liptay and support person Ben Joldersma, also face criminal charges for documenting Johnston and Klapstein’s action and will join in the necessity defense.  “The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld our right to present a full defense to a Minnesota jury, including the facts of the ongoing climate catastrophe caused largely by the fossil fuel industry,” said Klapstein.  “As a retired attorney, I am encouraged to see that courts across the country seem increasingly willing to allow the necessity defense in climate cases.  I believe that many judges are aware that our political system has proven itself disastrously unwilling to deal with the catastrophic crisis of climate change, which leaves as our only recourse the actions of ordinary citizens like ourselves and the courts and juries of our peers that stand in judgment of those actions.”

The opinion issued by the Court of Appeals is designated as “unpublished,” which means the opinion will not serve as binding precedent in future actions. Nevertheless, the opinion from the Court is a step in the right direction to allow juries to hear the full context of the actions of climate activists.

Johnston, after news of the decision, commented that “If we get to present a necessity defense trial, and the jury has to grapple with full knowledge of our shared reality, the jig is up for the fossil fuel industry, and the end of their devastating business model comes into much clearer view.”

Far from the feigned attempts by the Obama administration to institute policies to curb climate change, the current administration is actively dismantling the meager regulatory infrastructure that was supposed to address climate change (and a plethora of other environmental concerns). If there was ever a time to recognize the necessity of the actions of the valve turners, it is now.

The CLDC has led the defense of the other valve turners in Washington, Montana, and North Dakota in coordination with invaluable local counsel from each State. You can contribute to the work of the CLDC here to ensure that those who are willing to risk their liberty for a chance at a living planet have access to expert movement-based legal representation.  Assert your rights, we’ve got your back.

Help support our work defending the Valve Turners and fighting for the necessity defense by donating today!

If you would prefer to donate by check you can mail donations to: Civil Liberties Defense Center, 1430 Willamette St., #359, Eugene, Oregon 97401.

The Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC) is a non-governmental 501c3 nonprofit, supported by individual and community contributions, donations to the CLDC are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. Our tax ID number is 58-2670951.