'Valve turner' sent to prison for shutting down pipeline

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 6:35 PM CST
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An environmentalist hero or a misguided criminal? That was the question today in Pembina County court as two out-of-state men were sentenced for shutting down the keystone oil pipeline.

The pipeline company, TransCanada, said, it was dangerous and cost over a million dollars. But, the two men were found innocent of reckless endangerment instead facing felony charges for criminal mischief and trespassing.

Some used the courtroom to communicate a political message.

"I'm here today for sentencing. I might be incarcerated in a few minutes, and I might not," said Michael Foster moments before stepping into the courtroom. "I made a decision to commit civil disobedience, to defend my family tree and yours."

Foster admits to trespassing, cutting chains and turning a valve to stop oil flowing through Keystone Pipeline. His partner, Sam Jessup, was trying to live stream the shutdown.

"Who gets to decide when the cause is righteousness that enables people to violate the law?" asked Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers in court.

Prosecutors asked the judge to lock up Jessup for one year and Foster for two.

The defense argued for probation. Jessup's defense lawyer making the argument that their actions were necessary because of a political climate that ignores the majority. "We are not in a democracy today. Because, if it was democracy Mrs. Clinton would be president. She got three million more votes."

There were comparisons to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. when Foster got his turn.

"Somebody else, somewhere down the line, takes some meaning from what I did and they apply it in the way that they see fit. And that's what my action was meant to do," Foster said.

The judge asked if Foster was comparing the use of fuels to slavery.

Foster said, "absolutely."

In the end, the judge sentenced Foster to one year in prison.

Jessup got two years of probation.

We caught up to Foster's partner, Sue Leander, after she learned he was going to prison. "This is part of what it's going to take to change a system that is not responding to what is happening to our climate," she said.

The state thinks one year will deter others from trying this again.

"There's a message, or at least it gives something for people to think about if they're thinking about messing with our coal producing facilities or our two pipelines," Byers said.

"Martin Luther King spent many nights in jail. Gandhi spent years in jail. I'm not a spiritual leader. I'm just a guy, just a dad, volunteering my time to help out," Foster said.

Now, doing time for his cause.

Foster's attorney said they're debating filing an appeal, but as of now Foster has chosen to start severing his time today.