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Paying the piper

Published April 6, 2009 6:00 pm

DeChristopher facing felony counts
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tim DeChristopher is an idealist, sincerely concerned about the future of the Earth and and the well-being of his fellow humans. He's not unique, but surely we have no surplus of this kind of intelligent, courageous young man.

But Tim DeChristopher's also got a big problem.

When he monkey-wrenched a federal lease sale Dec. 19 by bidding on 14 oil and gas leases with no money in the bank and no intention to actually make good on his $1.8 million bids, he broke a federal law. He did it knowing he could be convicted of a felony and end up spending years in prison.

A federal grand jury has indicted DeChristopher on two felony counts, each carrying a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman has offered no plea bargain, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who nullified 77 of the leases, including those DeChristopher won, is giving him no help, not even moral support.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina, ruling in a lawsuit filed against the auction by conservation groups, stopped the Bureau of Land Management from leasing those parcels. Still, DeChristopher will answer charges in federal court April 28.

Tolman said he is only applying federal law based on the defendant's intent.

DeChristopher's intent is not in dispute. His action was clearly civil disobedience. He peacefully disrupted a legal process that he believed had been corrupted by greed and political expediency because he was trying to protect the planet and the people on it. He doesn't believe that his government, or the methods of environmental groups -- lawsuits, lobbying, "playing by the rules" -- get results quickly enough without renegades like himself taking on the system.

DeChristopher is in a hurry bcause he believes there is no time to spare for us and the planet.

He says that had he failed to act, he could not have lived with his complicity in the consequences: more drilling, more burning of fossil fuels, a hotter climate, rising seas, destructive weather, drought, famine -- worldwide human suffering.

We admire DeChristopher for following his conscience even if it leads him to a small cell behind iron bars. We share his concerns about carbon emissions and global warming. We hope he inspires others to demand that the government take the crisis more seriously and urgently take steps to mitigate the damage.

We wish it could happen without jeopardizing the future of a fine young man with a conscience to match.