Posted: Nov 14, 2012 4:26 PM by Melissa Anderson - MTN News
HELENA - Protesters arrested in August at the state Capitol in Helena plan to go to trial.
In August, 23 people were arrested for criminal trespass while protesting the state Land Board's decisions, which they say side with companies wanting to export coal overseas.
The protesters claim that coal is harmful to humans and the environment and should be left in the ground.
About 30 people rallied on their behalf in downtown Helena at Constitution Park on Wednesday afternoon.
One of the them, Corey Bressler, said, "China is rampantly increasing their growth of coal-fired power plants and rampantly decreasing the regulation on how they burn that coal. And so, personally, for me, it's just a matter of we have these resources and we need to keep them in the ground for the health of the planet."
Sixteen of the protesters in court are asking for a joint jury trial.
Seven of the protesters waived their right and will have a bench trial.
The defendant's attorneys say they plan to plead the case based on English common law theory which holds the defense of necessity to prevent a greater harm.
The trial is expected to be held sometime in February.
Meanwhile, supporters of the coal industry say while the protesters have a right to rally for their cause, it won't hinder the efforts to continue producing much needed jobs and valuable natural resources.
Bud Clinch, director of the Montana Coal Council, said, "We recognize their right to have their opinion, quite frankly we think the industry as well as the majority of Montanans think differently. We think that coal has a role in the energy future of America and it provides a great revenue source for good employment and a variety of revenues for state, local, and federal governments."
Clinch said that each train hauling coal through Montana pays about $31,000 in local taxes.
He also said newer technologies allow for cleaner coal burns.