Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Archaeological Looters Go Free, Drilling Protester Gets Two Years

In Utah, climate-change activist Tim DeChristopher a 29-year-old former University of Utah (called Bidder 70 by his supporters), is on his way to prison. He was convicted in March by a Salt Lake City jury of illegally bidding on oil and gas leases during a December 2008 federal auction when he had no intention of paying for them. He said that he felt he had to do something to focus attention on the frenzy during the last days of the Bush administration to sell off public lands for energy development that never should have been on the auction block and to stop expanded drilling on public lands.
DeChristopher said he did not have a clear plan when he turned up at the auction in Salt Lake City in December 2008. "At the time I went in with a very direct action kind of mindset thinking that if I can cause enough delay, stop this action and keep oil in the ground, then that would be worth it," he said. He had come straight from writing one of his finals, unshaven and in an old down jacket. "I certainly didn't look like anyone who was there," he said. "I didn't pretend to be an oil executive or anything." Officials from the federal Bureau of Land Management asked if he wanted to bid. DeChristopher said yes, still thinking at that point that he just wanted to shout something or cause a disruption. But by the time the auction was over, DeChristopher had driven up prices on some parcels and made winning bids on 14 pieces of land – some of it near national parks. He knew he had no money to pay for it.
Quite clearly, what DeChristopher did was illegal. While there may be many differences in opinion about anthropogenic climate change and access to federal lands, it is clear that the protester did no great harm to anyone and is no threat. In his trial, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson refused to allow DeChristopher to argue that he was invoking civil disobedience to change what he sees as government negligence. Today he was sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This seems vindictive given that:
Some of the leases he won included lands around Utah’s national parks that were later ruled in federal court to be inappropriate for oil and gas drilling. The court ruled the sale hijacked by DeChristopher was illegal and many of the parcels were withdrawn from future auctions.

On the other side of the federal land-use issue, San Juan County officials illegally removed BLM signs limiting federal land, Rep. Mike Noel encouraged 300 ATV riders to tear up southern Utah’s off-limits Paria River, and pot hunters who looted ancient relic sites and sold priceless artifacts for profit received probation for numerous felony convictions.
So it seems that in Utah, if you break the laws protecting the archaeological resource and loot archaeological sites and violate ancient burial grounds, you get to walk free. The judicial system over there apparently sees little reason to uphold the legislation protecting the historic environment. If you try to do something to stop the degradation of the natural environment, you go to prison.

Suzanne Goldenberg,'US eco-activist jailed for two years', The Guardian, 27 July 2011.

Opinion, 'A Just Sentence' Salt Lake Tribune Jul 27th 2011.

Opinion, 'Justice Denied', Salt Lake Tribune Jul 27th 2011.


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