Tim DeChristopher is on his way to prison. The climate-change activist Tuesday was handed a sentence he did not deserve after a trial in which he was not allowed to explain the reasons for his action, when his motivation was his only real defense.
DeChristopher certainly is a martyr for those who want to focus attention on human-caused global warming, and he probably takes some comfort in that. He said he has no regrets. But this extreme sentence, more than a rallying point, is an indictment of the judicial system that zeroed in on one young man who was acting according to his conscience but looks the other way when others illegally make the opposite point.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson sentenced DeChristopher, 30, to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He was convicted in March of bidding on oil and gas leases during a December 2008 federal auction. A jury found DeChristopher defrauded the federal government, running up a $1.8 million tab he couldn't pay.
Since his arrest, DeChristopher has become a hero to others worried about environmental damage from drilling and convinced that greenhouse gases released from burning fossil fuels are warming the Earth, causing extreme weather, drought, wildfires and ultimately starvation, homelessness and disease for millions around the globe.
However, Benson refused to allow DeChristopher to argue that he was invoking civil disobedience to force worldwide attention on the issue. Federal prosecutors did not seek the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but they objected to a federal probation officer's sentencing recommendation that DeChristopher be handed a light sentence.
The activist, called Bidder 70 by his supporters, has said, outside the courtroom, that he felt he had to do something to stop expanded drilling on public lands.
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 The court ruled the sale hijacked by DeChristopher was illegal and many of the parcels were withdrawn from future auctions.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.
And yet, DeChristopher alone is going to prison. This is not justice but an unconscionable injustice.
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