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Activist Who Shut Down Pipeline on Trial: "Act of Desperation" to Save Planet

Leonard Higgins, who shut down a pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont., faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison. (Climate Direct Action)
Leonard Higgins, who shut down a pipeline in Coal Banks Landing, Mont., faces the possibility of up to 10 years in prison. (Climate Direct Action)
November 22, 2017

FORT BENTON, Mont. – In October 2016, Leonard Higgins and four other activists concerned about the imminent impact of climate change took action into their own hands to stop it.

Known collectively as the "valve turners," the five climate activists shut off oil pipeline emergency valves across the country, stopping about 15 percent of the country's oil imports for nearly a day.

Higgins, who turned the valve in Coal Banks Landing, began his trial in Fort Benton this week.

His calm demeanor betrays the fact that he faces up 10 years in prison on felony charges of criminal trespass and mischief.

Above all else, what's clear is Higgins' dedication to stopping climate change.

"For myself, this is an act of desperation,” he states. “I'm not the kind of person that you would have ever thought would take civil disobedient, direct action.

“I'd never had any trouble with the law or courts. I worked for the state of Oregon for 31 years."

Higgins shut off Spectra Energy Express' pipeline importing tar sands, which he calls the dirtiest carbon emitter.

The other activists shut down tar sand pipelines in Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington state.

Spectra Energy says closing the emergency valve on a pipeline is dangerous.

But Higgins says the team planned for months and informed the companies what they were doing, and so no oil was pumping when they shut the lines down.

Higgins stresses the importance of reducing carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.

He wants people to be as active and passionate about this issue as they would be if their "child had cancer," because he wants his children and grandchildren to enjoy this planet. He hopes the valve turners' actions will drive change.

"Like other civil disobedient acts in the past around abolition or around women's suffrage, civil rights, might have some chance to move this issue into the public discussion, change public opinion, and move public policy as quickly as it needs to happen," he states.

Despite his feeling that the public is not directly engaged enough on this issue, Higgins is encouraged by efforts to modernize the power grid and agriculture and thinks the country is ready to move in a new and cleaner direction.

"I'm inspired by all of the work that's being done to make the changes that we need to,” he says. “Obviously, our technology in terms of wind energy and solar energy have moved at the same rate that the advancements in computers did."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT