Mark Dixon / Flickr

Jury nullification is a concept where …members of a trial jury can vote a defendant not guilty if they do not support a government’s law, do not believe it is constitutional or humane, or do not support a possible punishment for breaking a government’s law.

Judges often instruct juries to act only as “finders of facts,” to determine the veracity of the evidence presented, and make their judgment accordingly.  Though there is a difference of opinion within the legal community as to the legitimacy and whether there is any sound legal basis to support jury nullification, the task and responsibility of “finding of fact” is still the primary objective and never waivers.

The Facts

The facts are that over 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.  That pollution is harmful to ones’ health, that burning more coal, releasing more methane into the atmosphere, and generally following the path championed by the likes of the Koch brothers and the Trump administration, will be injurious to the health and wellbeing of the population of the United States.

To quote Ronald Reagan, “Preservation of our environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, it’s common sense.”  That is why the Trump administration’s announcement in early October of 2017, to repeal the Clean Power Plan passed under the Obama administration, is such an absurd abomination, running so counter to protecting the environment and the interests of the American people, that many of American’s largest corporations have decided to ignore the administration’s retrograde agenda and to continue down the path of utilizing more and more renewable energy to power their operations.  Even many utilities operating coal-fired plants seem to be ignoring EPA head Scott Pruitt’s proclamation that “…the war on coal is over…”

The Prosecution

The Trump administration is increasingly being weighted with climate change deniers, proponents of questionable if not downright bizarre perceptions of what is fact, and people of highly questionable ethics. The actions taken by these individuals often defies logic, runs counter to the interests of the constituents who elected Trump, as well as the interests of the majority of U.S. citizens.  If the policies being pursued by this administration are allowed to prevail, we risk the return of pollution levels of the 1970’s, when the lakes in the Adirondacks became too acidic, from the pollution generated by the burning of oil and coal in power plants, to support fisheries.  Cleanup of superfund sites will stall (proposed budget reduces EPA funding by 31 percent), and science and scientist will be relegated to secondary roles in formulating policy and the educational curriculum of our schools.

The Leviathan Mine, an abandoned, open-pit sulfur mine in Alpine County, California, is now a superfund site. (Photo: Uncle Kick-Kick / Flickr)

The Leviathan Mine, an abandoned, open-pit sulfur mine in Alpine County, California, is now a superfund site. (Photo: Uncle Kick-Kick / Flickr)

This is evidenced by the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who in his previous position as the Attorney General for the State of Oklahoma, sued the EPA 14 times over regulations designed to protect the quality of air and water, and who doesn’t believe human activities contribute [carbon dioxide] to global warming, if it is in fact occurring. – FACT.

Further evidenced by the appointment of Rick Perry, former governor of the State of Texas, to lead the Department of Energy (DOE), who didn’t know DOE oversaw the U.S. atomic energy program, and stated in an interview that [though] he did believe carbon dioxide emissions were the main drivers of the Earth’s warming, further stated that the driver is most likely “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”…a bizarre circular argument. – FACT

The administration’s appointment to Secretary of the Interior (DOI), Ryan Zinke, who hails from Wyoming, where the number one industry is mining, oil & gas, caused great trepidation within the environmental community.  His initial statements and comparing his position on protecting the land and environment to that of Theodore Roosevelt was most likely intended to belay these fears.  Once in office, his actions do not seem to support his previously voiced positions.  References to climate change have been removed from the agency’s website and from press releases.   Mr. Zinke evidently did not see the irony, or did not care, of reassigning an expert on climate change to auditing oil & gas leases for the agency.  In a most antithetical to Teddy Roosevelt statement, he has promised to be more friendly towards business, opening up more federally controlled land to mining, oil & gas interests, and to streamline the permitting processes.   Though he had voiced opposition to transferring tracts of public land to the private sector, his recent secret memo to Trump on his review of the monuments created under the Obama administration, as well as his support for the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, which transfers management and regulatory oversight of oil and gas operations on federal managed property to the States, bely and put into question his commitment to protecting the environment and having the federal government not relinquish responsibility for managing the lands currently under DOI’s control.  Mr. Zinke, you are no Theodore Roosevelt environmentalist.  Zinke believes that 30 percent of his staff, career public servants, are disloyal to the “flag.”  Where does that come from and what does that mean?  Being a bit Trumpish, don’t you think? – FACT

And let us not forget Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education.  No friend of science or scientists.  She champions the teaching of intelligent design in schools, an alternative perception to the teaching of evolution, primarily promoted by conservative religious organizations and fundamentalists.  She persistently refuses to acknowledge that climate change has been influenced by human activity, something the scientific community believes is established science.  She appointed Candice Jackson to be the acting assistant secretary of the Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Ms. Jackson has criticized programs designed to assist people of color, and dismissed those who have accused Donald Trump of sexual violence as “fake victims.” Her 2005 book, “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine,” criticized liberals for pushing an agenda to help “groups” at the expense of individuals’ freedom of choice.  She implies that that sexual harassment laws and policies ignore “…the reality that unwanted sexual advances are difficult to define” and “…tend to be subjectively interpreted.”  Both these individuals appear to embrace “alternative facts” not based in science.  Something not good for people tasked with overseeing the educational infrastructure and curriculum of our country – FACT

Pruitt, Zinke and Perry at a roundtable on energy dominance. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

Pruitt, Zinke and Perry at a roundtable on energy dominance. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

Trump’s champions — Scott Pruitt, Rick Perry and Ryan Zinke — seem intent on rolling back the environmental regulations and accomplishments dating back to the Nixon administration’s creation of the EPA.  If they are successful, their actions could be catastrophic to the United States, and injurious to the world.  If Betsy DeVos has her way, climate change will become neither good nor bad, proven nor unproven, but rather an act of God and therefore inevitable and explained through intelligent design.  I think not.

The Jury Verdict Is In

Thankfully, and somewhat ironically, it is many of those who the Trump team purport to champion, i.e., “American Industry,” and the majority of people in the United States, who are ignoring them.  The jury, finders of fact, have decided that addressing global warming, weaning the U.S. from the use of fossil-based fuels, and reducing industries’ global footprint and addressing sustainability issues are the right things to do, regardless of what the law might say or allow them to do, or what policies the Trump administration champions.  One non-partisan survey after another has shown that the majority of the American public believe and are concerned about climate change.  Even amongst Trump voters, almost 50 percent believe global warming is happening and that something should be done about it.

American Businesses’ Verdict

Of the Fortune 500 list of companies, over 81 of them currently use significant amounts of renewable energy to fuel their operations, e.g., Intel, Kohl’s Department Stores, Cisco, Colgate Palmolive, Office Depot.

Companies such as Adobe, Apple, Bank of America, Biogen, Bloomberg, BMW, Citi Group, Ebay, Estee Lauder, Facebook, General Motors, Google, HP, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Microsoft, Nike, Proctor &Gamble, Starbucks, Steelcase, Walmart, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs have committed to eventually be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

A number of U.S. cities have also committed to 100 percent renewable energy, e.g., San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Georgetown, Texas, Rochester, Minnesota, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Burlington, Vermont, which reached 100 percent in 2014.  Others have committed to lesser amounts, as well as agreeing to wean themselves off coal.  Many utilities have committed to reducing their reliance on coal, or to phase coal out completely.  This is not altruism, it’s economics.  Utilities are finding that generating or purchasing power from wind and solar is less expensive than either natural gas or coal.  Because of the extremely low cost of natural gas, it has replaced coals as the fuel of choice for fossil-fueled plants.

Climate Change: It is About Pollution

I would hope we have learned something from prior generations — that uncontrolled pollution, whether unregulated industrial waste or auto exhaust, comes with a very high price.  The cleanup cost associated with superfund sites is only one example.  Mr. Pruitt, do not forget what happened to Picher, Oklahoma, a town of over 1,600 people.  A century of minimally regulated mining left the town uninhabitable.  A 1996 study found that 34 percent of the children in Picher suffered from lead poisoning.  Underground mining had made 86 percent of the buildings in danger of collapse, leaving them uninhabitable.  In 2009, the EPA and the State of Oklahoma mandated total evacuation of the town, due to severe toxicity of the soil. It now resembles a ghost town.

A sign in Picher, Oklahoma. (Photo: Peggy Davis / Flickr)

A sign in Picher, Oklahoma. (Photo: Peggy Davis / Flickr)

Rick Perry’s most recent proposal to force American utilities to purchase power from coal and nuclear power plants, to “ensure reliability of the grid,”  is opposed by just about everyone except for the coal companies and the few utilities still operating nuclear plants.  They are proposing that the consumer pay for the cost of this electricity at its full cost to the utility, which they admit will be considerably higher than that from alternative sources.  This runs contrary to their old argument against renewables, that they are too expensive.  Now their argument is that wind and solar are too unreliable.  As the cost of batteries and other storage technologies keeps coming down, this argument is quickly eroding.

President Trump & Company Unhappy With Jury Verdict

There is a juvenile petulance being exhibited by President Trump and his team, taking revenge against all those who oppose them and their policies, and doing their best to undermine any of the policies and laws promulgated by their predecessors, in complete disregard as to whether the law or policy they are attempting to rescind benefited the American public, or the planet.  They stubbornly continue to call climate change a hoax when the vast majority of the scientists in the World say differently.  Yes, many of the Obama era regulations pertaining to the regulation of greenhouse gases were done under the name and justification of addressing “climate change/global warming,” but at the end of the day, it is about addressing POLLUTION, and addressing pollution is about the health and welfare of the population, and the majority of the U.S. population wants to live in an unpolluted environment.  If the question was put to Trump and his team in more simple terms, in a less existential context, such as querying them on their views on “pollution,” I believe the President and his crew would agree, “pollution bad, clean air and water good.”  Maybe the argument needs to be reduced to a Tweet for them.

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One Response

  1. Right on! There is legal precedence of jury nullification. I can not remember the specifics but in one case a town bully raped, molested and physically abused children and adults for decades with impunity. An upstanding member of the community caught the bully right after beating a woman severely. He killed the bully in plane sight of dozens of community members. The law was clear that he committed murder but the jury said he did a community service the law had ignored. While guilty of the crime he was released because the community agreed with his actions to eliminate the public threat. If anyone can identify the case let us know.

    Some early environmental cases were argued on this same precedent. An outdated law may protect the polluter but the public good may still win the day.

    W. Douglas Smith
    Environmental Scientist

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