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Tim DeChristopher became an icon in the environmental movement in 2008, when he entered outrageously high bids for parcels of land being auctioned off for gas and oil development -- bids that he had no intention of ever paying. Now, since his deed -- and perhaps partly because of it -- that entire auction was ruled illegitimate. It was part of a bum rush by the Bush administration to try to sell off public lands before Obama took office. Unfortunately, the felony charges still stand, and DeChristopher could face 10 years in prison and fines of $750,000 if convicted.In case you're not familiar with the DeChristopher saga, NPR will bring you up to speed:
Economics student Tim DeChristopher didn't envision himself as an eco-warrior when he showed up at the Bush administration's oil and gas leasing auction in Salt Lake City in December, 2008. But as he stood outside with other protestors, he thought "they were fighting a losing battle." He told NPR a few months later, "I knew that I wanted to do more. And so then I resolved to go inside."As you can imagine, the oil and gas execs who wanted a piece of that land were not pleased, and they're pushing to make him feel the full brunt of the law. And the US district judge has already ruled that DeChristopher can't use a "necessity" defence -- in which he would have argued he engaged in the action to prevent greater harm, according to NPR.
Once inside the Utah offices of the federal Bureau of Land Management, DeChristopher joined oil and gas prospectors in the bidding, raising a white laminated card with the number 70 in big black letters. He bid nearly $2 million for drilling rights on a dozen parcels of remote Utah land but had no money and no intention of paying.
And he may have done exactly that -- the Obama administration revealed that many of the lands should never have been put up for sale, as they were too close to National Parks, wilderness areas, and archeological sites.
So what's DeChristopher going to do? He's already admitted his guilt in the deed, so it's hard to say. Clearly, the trial, which began today and is projected to last four days, will be a nail-biter. It seems clear to me that DeChristopher did the right thing in peaceably engaging in civil disobedience to halt a destructive process that he knew was wrong.
He's been vindicated by the Executive Branch. Now, he needs to escape the charges of the oil and gas industry, who will go to lengths to ensure that citizens like Tim don't threaten its access to the levers of power. Stay tuned.