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Up in Smokestack 

Buchanan drops charges against protestors

The Greenpeace protestors who climbed a Greene County smokestack have been spared federal prosecution, at least for now.


As detailed in a July 8 column (Potter: 'Stack the Deck,'), a half-dozen protestors scaled the Hatfield's Ferry smokestack June 23, then hung a banner protesting the Bush administration's energy policy. When the protestors returned to earth, they expected to be hit with state trespassing charges. They didn't expect the U.S. attorney for the Pittsburgh district, Mary Beth Buchanan, to file a federal count of "destruction of an energy facility," that carries a maximum 20-year jail term.


The charges prompted concerns that the Bush regime was cracking down on protest -- while letting corporate polluters off easily.


Now Buchanan has withdrawn the charges, three weeks after filing them.


"We feel good about that," says Greenpeace campaigner Chris Miller. "We always felt that the federal charges were much more severe than what actually took place on that day. 'Willful destruction or severe impairment of an energy facility'? Clearly, none of that happened." The plant, he notes, operated throughout the protest.


The decision, Buchanan says, was a routine matter of not wanting to prosecute a case in two different courts at the same time. The Greenpeace activists still face seven counts of violating state laws, offenses ranging from misdemeanors to felony offenses for such things as "rioting."


In fact, Buchanan might reintroduce the charges if the protestors get off too easily. "We will look at how the state case is resolved and whether the resolution appears to be adequate," Buchanan says. What would constitute "adequate" punishment? "That will all depend on what facts are presented in state court."


"They obviously retain the right to indict if they choose," says Miller. "But if they felt really comfortable with those charges, I'd expect them to have moved forward."



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