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Protesters who blocked coal shipment set for trial

Two men who used an old lobster boat to block a coal shipment to New England’s largest coal-burning power plant say they plan to argue at trial that their actions were necessary because of the threat posed by climate change.

Environmental activists Ken Ward and Jonathan ‘‘Jay’’ O’Hara say they don’t intend to dispute many of the facts of the case during their jury trial, which opens Sept. 8 in Fall River District Court. Instead, they want to prove that global warming is real and that bold action is needed to stabilize the planet, according to their website, LobsterBoatBlockade.org.


The two are charged with disturbing the peace, conspiracy, failure to act to avoid a collision, and negligent operation of a motor vessel for the May 2013 incident at the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset.

Matthew Pawa, one of their lawyers, said the arguments at trial will be unusual because the defendants will contend their crimes were necessary to prevent a greater harm — the continued use of fossil fuels that increase global warming.

‘‘Most people are not trying to embrace the fact that they’ve committed certain acts. The typical defense is that the prosecution hasn’t been able to prove its case,’’ he said.

Pawa said the defendants will call on noted environmentalists, including Bill McKibben to serve as expert witnesses.

Ward, a 57-year-old former president of the National Environmental Law Center who now lives in Oregon, and O’Hara, a 32-year-old sailmaker from Massachusetts, have been documenting their case’s developments on their website, saying in a recent post they’ve raised more than $10,000 to help to pay their legal costs. They’re also rallying supporters to attend their trial.

‘‘People seem to pay more attention to things in a courtroom, and your presence will help communicate exactly how much this matters,’’ Ward and O’Hara wrote.


The defendants say they face months, if not years, in prison if convicted. A spokesman for the Bristol district attorney’s office declined to comment.

In May 2013, the pair anchored Ward’s roughly 30-foot former lobster boat — which bore a banner that read ‘‘coal is stupid’’ — near the pier at the Somerset power station.

According to police, the two affixed a 200-pound anchor to their boat to prevent a nearly 700-foot-long freighter, the Energy Enterprise, from delivering an estimated 40,000 tons of coal to the power station that day.

It took most of the afternoon and the combined efforts of the Coast Guard, area police departments, and a commercial salvage boat before the heavy anchor was finally raised, according to media reports. The next day, the Energy Enterprise unloaded its coal at the power station, which is set to close in 2017.