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Trial for fossil fuel protesters begins in Concord

Protesters flagged down the coal train to stop it and then occupied the tracks in Massachusetts early Sunday, December 8, 2019
350 New Hampshire Action
Protesters flagged down the coal train to stop it and then occupied the tracks in Massachusetts early Sunday, December 8, 2019

The jury trial for a group of protesters who tried to stop a train bringing coal to a power plant in Bow began Tuesday in a Concord courtroom.

The 2019 protest was part of an ongoing campaign in New England to end the use of fossil fuels like coal, which are the main driver of climate change.

In opening statements, lawyers for the defendants focused on the mental state of the protestors on the December day of their arrest, saying their consciences and their belief in stopping the burning of fossil fuels led to their actions.

“My clients are vastly different in many ways, but they are united over a shared commitment,” said Attorney Kira Kelley. “This is a commitment to a conscience, a conscience that requires them to embrace responsibility over current and future generations, who our actions or our inactions affect.”

In 2019, the activists were part of a group of about 100 people who delayed a train in Worcester and Ayer, Mass., and in Hooksett, N.H., on its way to what is now the last remaining coal-fired power plant in New England, in Bow. The power plant runs rarely, providing power when the grid is in need of more electricity, like on very cold days.

Matthew Flynn, an attorney for the state of New Hampshire, said in his opening statement that jurors should focus on the elements of the charges defendants are facing: that they knowingly trespassed on a bridge in Hooksett.

“Elements, folks, that's what this case is about. It's not about protesting. It's not about climate change. And it's not about the beliefs of the defendants that they sincerely hold.”

Attorney Logan Perkins, who is representing two of the defendants, told the jury they would hear from defendants about the climate emergency, the need to eliminate coal, and the role of protests in social change.

“The state is going to argue what they knew and then we're going to offer you a different version of what they knew at the time,” Perkins said. “What they're going to tell you they knew is that there is a climate emergency. That coal is low hanging fruit in that emergency…. And they're also going to tell you that actions like theirs, big, bold, inspiring actions are often the thing that is necessary to make a change in the world.”

The trial continues Wednesday.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
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