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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Trial could have sent clear message to activists

On Tuesday, Judge Robert Tiffany dismissed a case that was filed against Seattle-area activists accused of illegally accessing an Enbridge pipeline near Leonard. Members of the group faced felony and misdemeanor charges for accessing the site using bolt cutters as part of a coordinated national attack tampering with valves on five major pipelines that transport oil from Canada to the United States.

The judge’s decision came as a disappointment to both sides. The self-styled “valve turners” sought to use the trial as an opportunity to grab a national spotlight and grandstand on the subject of climate change. Meanwhile, those of us who understand the threat these attacks pose to critical infrastructure hoped that the outcome would discourage activists who wrongly equate pipelines to climate change, and who confuse civil disobedience with dangerous sabotage, from engaging in such dangerous and misguided public relations exercises.

Like so many of the incendiary tactics deployed by pipeline opponents in recent years, the “valve turner” stunt did nothing for the earth’s climate. Fortunately, their actions did not result in physical injuries or significantly disrupt pipeline operations. But if they had, the oil simply be diverted to more costly, higher-carbon rail transport. As Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission recently concluded, following based on exhaustive review of Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement project, carbon emissions are driven by consumer demand for petroleum products and not pipeline operations.

The “valve turners” did, however, set a dangerous precedent. We are fortunate that their irresponsible decision to tamper with the operation of a live pipeline did not compromise equipment, injure or kill workers, or pollute the environment. We may not be so lucky next time. The outcome could have been much worse. These actions could still have a dangerous effect if their publicity-seeking moves inspire more amateurs with bolt cutters to attack pipelines or other energy facilities in the name of stopping climate change.

The trial could have sent a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated here in Minnesota. Instead, it may encourage others to follow their example with potentially devastating consequences.

Climate change is a challenge that should be addressed by public policies that are based on sound science. There are many venues, including the Legislature, the courts or lawful protest, in which concerned citizens voice and help shape policies designed to meet the challenge.

Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, is a Minnesota State Representative for District 2A, which includes Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, and Lake of the Woods counties.   

Dan Olson, Duluth, is business manager for LIUNA Local #1091.