FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 8, 2014
FALL RIVER, MA — In a major — and unexpected — victory for the climate movement, the criminal charges against two men who used a lobster boat to block a massive coal shipment were dropped this morning.
In May 2013, Ken Ward and Jay O’Hara used a little white lobster boat, the Henry David T, to block a shipment of 40,000 tons of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, MA, the largest coal plant in New England. They were charged with conspiracy, disturbing the peace and motor vessel violations and faced up to several years in jail.
The Bristol County District Attorney, Sam Sutter, dropped the conspiracy charges and reduced the other charges to civil infractions this morning, saying that he saw the need to take leadership on climate change. He called climate change “one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced” and told a cheering crowd that he would join them at the People’s Climate March in New York City in two weeks.
Ken and Jay had sought to become the first American climate activists to use a “necessity defense”, arguing that the blockade was necessary in light of the imminent threat of climate change. They had planned to call former NASA climatologist James Hansen and environmentalist Bill McKibben to the stand as expert witnesses.
“The truth is that taking these sorts of actions is necessary in light of the drastic news that continues to be described by the science. This decision by the District Attorney is an admission that the political and economic system isn’t taking the climate crisis seriously, and that it falls to ordinary citizens, especially people of faith, to stand up and take action to avert catastrophe,” said Jay O’Hara, a Quaker.
“By dropping the criminal charges against us and stating that ‘political leadership on this [climate] issue has been gravely lacking,’ DA Sutter in effect accepted our necessity defense. The climate crisis is so terrible and so fast that it overwhelms ordinary political avenues. Even now, as the West Antarctic ice shelf is in unstoppable collapse, the Brayton Point plant is increasing the amount of coal it burns. Protest works, indeed protest maybe the only thing that can save us,” said Ken Ward.
Ken and Jay’s blockade sparked a summer of action at the Brayton Point, including the arrest of 44 people at the gates of the plant in July 2013. Last fall, the owners announced the closure of Brayton Point in 2017.
An unofficial transcript of the DA’s remarks is available here.
Photos for media use are available here (photo credit: Peter Bowden).
A video of the DA’s remarks is available here.
Ken and Jay are available for interviews. To schedule, contact Emily Kirkland (646 623 5271, firstname.lastname@example.org), Communications Coordinator for Better Future Project, a Cambridge-based climate advocacy group that has been supporting Ken and Jay.