By Dan Whitcomb
(Reuters) - A jury was selected in Washington state on Monday in the first trial over a coordinated protest that disrupted the flow of millions of barrels of crude oil into the United States, a proceeding activists hope will serve as a referendum on climate change.
Activist Ken Ward says he will not dispute that he shut down a valve on the Kinder Morgan Inc's Trans Mountain Pipeline near Burlington, Washington, but he will testify that such actions are necessary in the face of the government's failure to address global warming.
"I am going to talk a little bit about climate science" during the trial in Skagit County Superior Court, said Ward, a former deputy director of Greenpeace USA and co-founder of Green Corps.
"I spent 30-some-odd years following only legal approaches," Ward said in an interview. "It's only been in recent years that the scale of the problem and lack of a political solution leaves no choice but direct action."
Ward, 60, is charged with trespassing, burglary and sabotage. If convicted, he could face up to three decades in prison.
Protest group Climate Direct Action said the move was in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, which has protested the construction of the $3.7 billion Dakota Access pipeline carrying oil from North Dakota to the U.S. Gulf Coast over fears of damage to sacred land and water supplies.
Officials, pipeline companies and experts said the protesters could have caused environmental damage themselves by shutting down the lines.
A judge has barred Ward's lawyers from formally mounting a "necessity" defense or arguing that his actions were justified in light of a looming environmental crisis. Ward, however, said he would try to make that case from the witness stand.
Skagit County Prosecutor Rich Weyrich said he expected the trial to be completed this week.
Ward was arrested in October when he and other activists in four states cut padlocks and chains and entered remote flow stations to turn off valves to try to stop crude from moving through lines that carry as much as 15 percent of daily U.S. oil consumption.
Supporters call Ward's trial an "all hands on deck moment" for the climate change movement, which has also spawned protests of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline.
Last week U.S. President Donald Trump signed orders smoothing the path for those pipelines in an effort to expand energy infrastructure.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Grant McCool)