Bristol County DA Calls Off Climate Change Show Trial

Sep 8, 2014

Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, MA is New England's largest coal-burning power plant.
Credit Heather Goldstone / WCAI

Two men who used a lobster boat to block a 40,000 ton coal shipment headed for Brayton Point Power Station will not face criminal charges.

Jay O’Hara is a young Cape-based sail maker, community organizer and climate activist. 57-year old Ken Ward currently earns a living as a carpenter, but has at times in the past led the National Environmental Law Center and the Public Interest Research Group.

On May 15th, 2013, the pair anchored a 32-foot lobster boat named the Henry David T. just off the dock at Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset. In so doing, they prevented a barge carrying 40,000 tons of coal from delivering its load for a full day. In return, they were arraigned on four criminal charges: disturbing the peace, conspiracy, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent operation of a motor vessel.

It was intended to be a show trial, with climate scientist-turned-activist James Hansen and 350.org founder Bill McKibben both slated to testify. Ward and O’Hara planned a necessity defense, arguing that climate change presented such a crisis – and federal climate action was so inadequate – that they had no alternative but to place their lobster boat between the barge and the power plant. Whether or not the defense was successful, it would be a statement.

Instead, Bristol County District Attorney Samuel Sutter made a surprise appearance in court Monday morning with a statement of his own. Sutter announced that his office was dropping all criminal charges, and that he, himself, would be attending the People’s Climate March in New York City later this month. He called climate change “one of the gravest crises of our time” and vowed to take leadership on the issue.

Ward and O'Hara have agreed to pay $2,000 in restitution to the city of Somerset to offset the costs incurred by the effort to remove their boat.