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tried and protested

Activists head to court after shutting down pipelines. Their defense? Climate change.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that four anti-pipeline activists facing criminal charges have a legit case to argue the “necessity defense” in court. In 2016, two of them turned off valves for Enbridge oil pipelines that transport Canadian oil to the U.S.

The so-called “valve turners” will argue that climate change is such a daunting threat that taking illegal action — like trespassing — is necessary when there’s no other recourse. Sometimes, the logic goes, it may be more dangerous to follow the law than to disobey it.

The judge approved the valve turners’ request last year to invoke the necessity defense, but the prosecution fought back and appealed. That appeal was just dismissed. Next up, science will take the stand: Climate scientists and other experts will testify about the serious threat posed by global warming.

The necessity defense has worked for climate activists before. Last month, a Massachusetts judge ruled that 13 protesters were not responsible for civil disobedience after they were arrested for sitting in holes dug for a pipeline to block construction.