Trial begins for Algonquin pipeline protesters

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CORTLANDT MANOR -

Nearly two years after they tried to block the controversial Algonquin pipeline project, six environmental activists are on trial at the Cortlandt Manor courthouse on charges of trespassing.

Prosecutors say the group crawled into a section of stored pipes for Spectra Energy's 42-inch gas pipeline in October 2016. They remained inside for 18 hours.

The protesters are members of the group Resist Spectra, and they say that the pipeline project runs dangerously close to the Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan.

It extends under the Hudson River, north from Pennsylvania up through New York.

On Monday, a judge granted a defense attorney's request to use the so-called necessity defense for the protesters.

"Somebody can break the law in order to avoid a greater harm," says David Dorfman, the suspects' lawyer.

That means the protesters plan to argue that they acted to avoid "imminent public or private injury" with a lack of better options.

"The defense attorney argued that these defendants are entitled to a necessity defense because they were trying to prevent the greater harm of construction and use of this particular pipeline," says Marla Marcum, an environmental activist. 

The protesters opted for a bench trial, meaning their fates are in the hands of the judge and not of jurors. If convicted, they will likely face community service and no time behind bars.

They also plan to testify during the proceedings.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the pipeline project, but critics claim the basis of the approval relied on false data.

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