SALT LAKE CITY aEU" A federal judge said Friday heaEU(tm)s reluctant to put global warming on trial in the case of a Utah college student charged with disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction for parcels near several national parks.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson gave attorneys for Tim DeChristopher a month to file briefs saying why they should be allowed claim he was acting in the interest of the greater good.
DeChristopher says he posed as a bidder last December aEU" and indeed won $1.7 million in leases aEU" in an act of civil disobedience to protect wild lands near UtahaEU(tm)s national parks from drilling and call attention to climate change.
After a 45-minute hearing, Benson didnaEU(tm)t rule out the possibility of DeChristopheraEU(tm)s so-called aEUoelesser-of-two-evilsaEU defense but said heaEU(tm)s reluctant to aEUoeopen this courtroom to a lengthy hearing on global warming.aEU
Federal prosecutors say DeChristopheraEU(tm)s case should be decided strictly on whether heaEU(tm)s guilty of felony counts of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction. DeChristopher has pleaded not guilty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber told Benson that DeChristopheraEU(tm)s case doesnaEU(tm)t meet several key hurdles established by case law that justifies the aEUoenecessityaEU defense for crimes done in the name of a greater good. Those requirements include proof of imminent harm and a lack of any other legal means to arrive at the same result.
aEUoeThe political process works in this country,aEU Huber said. aEUoeWe donaEU(tm)t resort to criminal acts.aEU
The defenseaEU(tm)s intent is to widen the scope of the trial into a publicized philosophical discussion over global warming and environmental damage, Huber said. Those points are irrelevant to the charges, he said.
But DeChristopheraEU(tm)s attorney, Ronald Yengich, compared his client to Rosa Parks and civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders.
He said the Bush administration in its waning days tried to illegally auction off parcels in some of UtahaEU(tm)s most pristine environments.
DeChristopheraEU(tm)s disruption of the auction was a nonviolent effort aEUoeto stop what he believed was greater harm.aEU
aEUoeThis man had no other option in his mind,aEU Yengich said.
He said heaEU(tm)d like to have evidentiary hearings including scientists, legal experts and other witnesses who can talk about climate change, oil and gas drilling, and other larger issues related to the case.
Asked after the hearing whether he wants to put global warming on trial, Yengich said: aEUoeIaEU(tm)d like to put the Bush administration on trial.aEU
DeChristopher, now a senior economics major at the University of Utah, has become a hero in some environmental circles for his stand against global warming. Although he faces the possibility of prison if convicted, he said Friday he has no regrets.
aEUoeThis is a serious threat that justifies strong action,aEU he said after the hearing.
At the Dec. 19 BLM auction, DeChristopher grabbed a bidderaEU(tm)s paddle to run up prices and take parcels between Arches and Canyonlands national parks for safekeeping. He later acknowledged he didnaEU(tm)t have $1.7 million to pay for his leases on 22,000 acres.
DeChristopher faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, although the U.S. attorney in Utah has said he is unlikely to get anything close to the maximum punishment.
DeChristopher had been scheduled to go to trial last summer, but motions over what kind of defense can be used have delayed the proceedings.
Many of the original 77 leases were scrapped in February by new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has said the Bush administration in its final weeks rushed to sell the oil and gas leases aEUoeat the doorstep of some of our greatest national icons, some of our nationaEU(tm)s most treasured landscapes.aEU
A federal review team this summer said some of the leases would clearly spoil views from some of UtahaEU(tm)s national parks, while others could prove suitable for sale again because theyaEU(tm)re near existing or soon-to-be-operating oil and gas fields.