Utah energy activist says actions worth possible jail time

A year-and-a-half after Tim DeChristopher successfully bid for 14 federal oil and gas leases he had no intentions of paying for, he still doesn’t know if his actions will lead to jail time.

He also has no way of knowing whether time behind bars might bring even more publicity to his concerns about oil and gas development and climate change, or if people may simply forget about him.

Either way, DeChristopher said, “I think my action is worth it and has already made an impact.”

DeChristopher is further sharing his thoughts on the worth of civil disobedience this weekend at Mountainfilm in Telluride. He is scheduled to speak this morning and also join in a morning breakfast talk with fellow environmental activists Dave Foreman of Earth First! fame and Katie Lee, who has decried the flooding of Glen Canyon.

On Monday morning, he is to participate in a breakfast talk led by Ernest “Rip” Patton, one of the Freedom Riders who spent time in prison for civil rights activism in the 1960s.

“For them, certainly, that time in jail was an instrumental part of what they were doing and certainly effective in building the movement,” DeChristopher said in an interview.

The Utah resident has been indicted on federal charges for his action. His trial recently was postponed until September.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

“It was a conscious choice I made at the time that those are consequences that are worth it,” DeChristopher said. “… If I wanted to avoid going to jail I would have not disrupted the auction in the first place. My goal was to stimulate the discussion and shine the light on what was going on.”

He said he arrived at the auction only knowing he would disrupt it somehow, and ended up registering to bid when the opportunity arose.

“It was easier than signing up on eBay,” he said.

DeChristopher, 28, became involved in the protest because of his growing concern about climate change.

Most of the leases he bid on were near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. DeChristopher said the government later decided 11 of the parcels shouldn’t be leased, which he thinks justified his actions.

Energy companies have gone unpunished for bidding on parcels without paying for them, DeChristopher said. He believes the industry’s influence led to him being charged.

“The new administration is beholden to the same corporate interests that the last administration was,” DeChristopher said.

He called the oil spill in the Gulf “a blatant example of the drill-now-think-later mentality.”

“That’s a clear picture of what our energy polices have been over the last decade, which is let corporations do whatever they want and put their profits ahead of everything else,” he said.

DeChristopher, who holds an economics degree from the University of Utah, said he’s a full-time activist whose projects including launching a climate-action group called Peaceful Uprising.


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