PSE LNG: Steve’s Verdict Is In

The action behind the case

Last December Carlo Voli and I climbed a crane at the construction site of Puget Sound Energy’s LNG plant on the Tacoma Tideflats. We stayed there for the duration of the work day. (That kicked off a week of action which culminated in several hundred people gathering in the predawn darkness of a frigid December morning.) No work took place at the site that day.

An outgrowth of that activity was my trial in Tacoma Municipal Court last week. Carlo and I had been arrested and we spent 24 hours in jail. I was charged with trespassing and obstructing a Tacoma police officer because we did not come down from the crane when so ordered. Blake Kremer, my lawyer, was not allowed to argue the “necessity” defense nor, somewhat surprisingly, any testimony regarding LNG or the plant itself.

The argument we WERE allowed to make was my belief that I was on land belonging to the Puyallup Tribe and that I had their permission to be there. Ramona Bennett was qualified as an expert witness regarding Puyallup Tribe land issues, as she had previously been qualified, and she gave extremely effective testimony. Dakota Case was also qualified as an expert witness regarding Puyallup land rights. The basis of his knowledge was recognized to be the oral tradition of the tribe and his time spent with elders and other tribal members. Dakota, too, gave extremely effective testimony. I testified as well, and Blake’s closing argument was very persuasive.

The verdict and sentence

The six person jury came back with a verdict of not guilty on the trespassing charge and guilty of obstruction. The judge’s sentence was a $150 fine, two years probation and 40 hours of community service. It is a “deferred” sentence, meaning that if I have no legal issues for the two years, there will be nothing on my permanent record.

The verdict of not guilty on the tresspassing charge is huge. The most important reason I went to trial was to argue the right of the Puyallup Tribe to their land on the Tacoma Tideflats. An 1854 treaty between the United States Government and the Puyallup people clearly shows that the southern end of Commencement Bay belongs to the Tribe. The fact that the treaty has repeatedly been ignored and abused for over 150 years does not change that fact. Ramona and Dakota ably argued details of the treaty and subsequent events.

Part of the movement

The week of activity at the work site and the subsequent trial involved the efforts of many, many people. There have been, and continue to be, victories up and down our coast from British Columbia north of Vancouver to Coos Bay in southern Oregon. People from a variety of geographic locations and a variety of constituencies effectively work together to achieve these victories. Here in Tacoma, resistance to the PSE LNG facility continues—its completion is by no means a done deal—and the trial last week and a similar trial and verdict last May are most gratifying.

It is my belief that if everyone who stands with Indigenous people and who opposes fossil fuel infrastructure does what they can, whatever that may be, we can continue to achieve victories. The “two” issues are really one. They cannot be separated. The tide is turning nationwide at local and regional levels. Time spent doing what we can pays off.

How it feels to stand up

To end on a personal note, it was an absolute privilege to be up on the crane with Carlo and to be supported by so many people during that day and the days that followed. Likewise, it was an absolute privilege to be in court supported by the Puyallup Water Warriors and the many people who came to court or who passed along good wishes.

A most heartfelt thank you to all.

Steve Way