Monday, February 14, 2011

Man Faces Years in Prison After Attempting to Save Public Lands from Oil and Gas Companies

Academic and journalist, Tim DeChristopher, participated in a public auction in December of 2008 and bid $1.7 million for 22,000 acres of land that the Bush administration had auctioned for oil and gas drilling. A total of 150,000 acres were auctioned. The hitch was that DeChristopher, a student at the University of Utah at the time, did not have the funds to pay for the land.

In April of 2009, at the order of the Bureau of Land Management, which was selling the land, a federal grand jury indicted him with two accounts of felony and he was arrested. The felony charges consisted of making a false statement to the federal government and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act which established a competitive bidding process for oil and gas leases.

If DeChristopher is convicted, he will serve up to ten years in prison and a $75,000 fine. His trial is currently set for Monday, February 28, 2011 and his legal defense team is Patrick Shea and Ronald J. Yengrich. Unfortunately, his defense has been limited and they are not allowing the necessity, or choice of evil, defense. The Choice of Evils Defense is a defense to a criminal charge based on the assertion that the act was committed in order to avoid the cost of an even greater evil. This will make it even more difficult for him to discuss the illegitimacy of the auction in the first place. In a recent interview with a blogger from the Huffington Post, DeChristopher said, “I was concerned about the state of the environment and how little people were doing. I was building up the commitment to do something to try to resist the climate crisis. I felt that writing letters and riding my bike was not enough. Part of the process was like a mourning process for my future.”

Even though DeChristopher’s actions were considered criminal, there is controversy concerning whether or not his actions were justified because he challenged a greater evil in modern society. Last year, Dr. James Hansen, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Robert Redford and Terry T. Williams wrote an open letter that was circulated in support of Tim DeChristopher's "creative protest against runaway energy policy.
In DeChristopher’s own words, “We need to look at ourselves to address climate change, rather than appealing to power (make phone calls and write letters). Rather than appeal to power, we need to assert power - because we have the power to enact social change.”


  1. This is political. They want to make an example out of him. It's a scare tactic to make the rest of us "would-be" activists cower and shy away from doing the right thing. My heart goes out to this man. If this was my nation and I ran it I'd give him a full pardon.

  2. As would I. Even though his actions are considered illegal, I believe that the evil he was attempting to stop far outweighs that. I think we all need to learn to have the courage to stand by our convictions.

  3. In this situation - the ends justify the means. It's not ethically wrong to break bad law. As our own economy weakens many of us might find ourselves forced to do thing we never thought imaginable just to survive. The cuts are coming! Just today it was announced that Texas will cut 100,000 teachers. What's scary about this is the fact that Texas is one of the states fairing out better than the rest of the country.