Tuesday, May 03, 2005
The environmental activist group Greenpeace is accused of violating Alaska's environmental laws by failing to file the proper paperwork when its contracted ship entered state waters to protest logging in the Tongass National Forest. Trial was scheduled to begin Monday in state District Court in the southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan. Greenpeace Inc., Arctic Sunrise Capt. Arne Sorensen and the ship's agent, William Beekman, are charged with misdemeanor criminal negligence in the failure to file oil spill response paperwork last summer. State environmental regulators cited the defendants last July for not filing a spill response plan or having proof of financial responsibility in case of a spill. According to court documents, the ship was carrying more than 70,000 gallons of "petroleum products" at the time. "We have an obligation to prosecute people in violation of the law," said state Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones. "Greenpeace is an organization that rigorously monitors the same kind of concerns they ran afoul on. You would think that they would have been aware of those laws and in compliance of them." Under state law, a non-tank vessel larger than 400 gross tons must file an oil spill response plan application five days before entering state waters. Greenpeace officials said the lack of documents was a paperwork gaffe that was quickly corrected. The state is unfairly targeting the group when it doesn't even own the Arctic Sunrise, according to Greenpeace attorney Tom Wetterer. He said those on board the ship didn't know such documents were required. Numerous vessels have entered state waters lacking the same paperwork without facing criminal prosecution, Wetterer said. "It raises the question of motivation in naming Greenpeace on heels of the campaign to save the Tongass," he said. "I see it as effort to stifle their First Amendment rights in retaliation." That argument didn't work in a motion filed in Ketchikan by Beekman and Sorensen to dismiss the case on grounds they were being singled out because of their connection to Greenpeace, said Assistant Attorney General Jay Fayette. In a ruling last week, District Judge Kevin Miller rejected the motion. "Because the selective prosecution seeks such extraordinary relief, the defendant bears the burden to produce clear evidence that the government's prosecution is motivated by a discretionary purpose," Miller wrote. "The defense has not produced clear evidence of an improper motive in this prosecution." Fayette said the misdemeanor criminal charges were filed only after the Arctic Sunrise departed from Ketchikan before the paperwork was finalized, in violation of an order to stay anchored. The charges of criminal negligence carry a maximum penalty of a $200,000 fine for an organization and a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for an individual.