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Valve-Turning Activist From Oregon Won’t Serve Prison Time


Ken Ward of Corbett, Oregon, faced criminal charges in a 2017 trial after turning off a valve to stop the flow of oil from the tar sands in Canada into the United States.

Ken Ward of Corbett, Oregon, faced criminal charges in a 2017 trial after turning off a valve to stop the flow of oil from the tar sands in Canada into the United States.

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A climate activist from Oregon will not serve jail time for his part in an oil pipeline protest last fall. A Washington judge instead sentenced the so-called “valve turner” to a month of community service and six months of probation.  

Ken Ward of Corbett was one of five activists who turned valves off on several pipelines bringing oil from Canada to the United States. A Skagit, Washington, jury convicted him of second-degree burglary earlier this month.

“It was pretty lenient sentence, given the possible range of outcomes. Especially given the prosecutor had asked for the maximum,” Ward said.  

Ward faced up to 20 years in jail.  

Ward was part of a protest looking to hold up the delivery of fossil fuel, a primary driver of climate change. Ward says physically stopping the flow of oil was their only realistic option.  

“A lot of what we were putting before the court system, it seems to me, is a real struggle between the questions of what’s law and what’s justice,” he said.

Ward plans to appeal his conviction because he feels the judge was wrong in not allowing his lawyers to make the “necessity defense.” This line of defense says a criminal act can be justified if you have already tried other legal means to achieve an outcome.  

“We strongly believe if he had been given the opportunity to present that defense to the jury, he may have well have been acquitted,” said Ward’s attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center.  

Regan said they will also learn soon whether pipeline owner Kinder Morgan will seek financial restitution for damages caused during the protest. This possibly could include recompense for the time the pipeline was offline.

Four other Washington and Oregon residents involved in the valve turning protest are still awaiting trial for coordinated actions in Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

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