Greenpeace, one of the best-known environmental groups in the world, is used to seeing its activists arrested at protests. What it's not used to is being charged with breaking environmental laws, but that's what the state of Alaska has done.
Prosecutors have cited the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise for not submitting oil spill prevention documents before entering state waters.
The ship, with 27 activists on board, is touring Southeast Alaska to protest logging in the Tongass National Forest.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation cited the ship for not filing an oil spill response plan or having a certificate of financial responsibility in case of a spill, which large non-tankers are required by state law to do five days before entering state waters.
Hefty fines possible
Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones said the misdemeanor charges were filed Thursday. The criminal negligence charges carry a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $10,000 fine for an individual and $200,000 for an organization.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Carol Gregory said Thursday she did not know charges had been filed. She said the matter was an oversight and the proper forms were filed as soon as it was discovered.
“It was a clerical error about paperwork and not about environmental protection,” Gregory said. “We’re Greenpeace. Of course we want to work within all environmental laws.”
Prosecutors filed charges against Greenpeace, Arctic Sunrise Capt. Arne Sorenson and the ship’s agent, Willem Jan Beekman.
The ship was ordered to anchor July 14 until the documents were filed. The ship resumed its passage in violation of the order and was stopped again, according to the department.
Power plant charges dropped
In another legal development, federal authorities dropped charges against six Greenpeace activists who climbed a smokestack at a coal-fired power plant Pennsylvania, unfurling a banner in protest of President Bush’s energy policy.
A Pittsburgh federal judge this week approved prosecutors’ request to dismiss charges of conspiracy and destruction of an energy facility. The activists still face state charges of burglary, criminal trespassing, rioting and related offenses.
The Greenpeace activists on June 23 cut a hole in a fence that surrounds Allegheny Energy’s Hatfield's Ferry Power Station, state police said. The protesters climbed the 700-foot smokestack at the plant about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh and unfurled a 2,500-square-foot banner.
U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said she may charge the activists later, depending on how the state charges are resolved. “We will wait to see what happens in state court. ... Greenpeace can’t celebrate yet,” Buchanan said.
John Coequyt, an energy policy specialist for Greenpeace, said the protest didn’t merit federal charges. “We have a strong feeling the charges were dropped because (the protesters) are not guilty of those crimes and that’s their way of exonerating them,” Coequyt said.