Editor’s note: Watch the testimony provided by researcher Tarika Powell last month in the February 20 pre-trial hearing at the end of this article.
Stephen Way, 72, and Carlo Voli, 52, paddled to the Tacoma LNG construction site at the Port of Tacoma before dawn last December 11, and locked themselves to a construction crane around 7 a.m. The two activists, who are affiliated with 350 Tacoma, a grassroots organizing group that opposes the Tacoma LNG plant, came down peacefully around 4:30 p.m. Both were arrested.
Stephen Way and Carlo Voli are among several activists who have been arrested in recent nonviolent actions at the Tacoma LNG construction site.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sightline will participate in a pre-trial hearing to determine whether Voli and Way, who are charged with obstructing and criminal trespass in the first degree, can use a “necessity defense” at trial. A necessity defense is a recognized element in common law (and the statutory laws of most states) that applies to particular situations in which breaking the law is more advantageous to society than obeying it. A defendant who raises a necessity defense claims that they acted under the reasonable belief that committing the offense would prevent a greater evil or harm from occurring, and that there was no other means to avoid the threatened danger.
Way told KOMO News that he and Voli climbed the crane to garner publicity for their cause. Way told the news station that he wants people to “find out what’s really going on here.”
Construction activities are underway at the Tacoma LNG site even though the facility has not received all the permits required to construct the facility. As a result, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which has not issued its permit, issued a notice of violation to project backer Puget Sound Energy (PSE) in April 2017. The clean air agency has also determined that further analysis of the project’s air emissions impacts is needed, and it has put the facility’s construction application on hold while it conducts a supplemental environmental impact analysis to “quantitatively evaluate all GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” of the proposed project. However, PSE has disputed the violation notice and continued with construction activities.
I have been covering the permitting and safety concerns around the Tacoma LNG facility since early 2016. Additionally, I have given informational presentations about the facility numerous times – including most recently a featured talk at the University of Puget Sound called “Tacoma and Environmental Justice in the Northwest.”
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Way and Voli are among several activists who have been arrested in recent nonviolent actions at the Tacoma LNG construction site. In December 2017, two other protestors who chained themselves to equipment at the site were found not guilty of criminal trespass and obstructing an officer after the jury determined that the City of Tacoma had not established that the site was city land rather than disputed property of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
Recent protests at the facility were undertaken in support of the Puyallup Tribe. The Tribe has asked the clean air agency and several other state and federal government agencies to issue a stop work order on the LNG plant, but none have intervened. In February, fourteen Northwest tribes joined the Puyallup in asking Governor Inslee to halt construction of the plant.
Obstructing and criminal trespass in the first degree are gross misdemeanors in Washington State. If convicted, Way and Voli face a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine for each charge.