From Fuel Cell to Jail Cell

Or how we learned to stop encouraging scientific innovators and start prosecuting them. 

The reports

Critics who contend federal prosecutors too often go far beyond common sense and the law in enforcing bureaucratic gobbledygook, especially on environmental matters, could list as Example One the strange case of Krister Evertson, aka federal prisoner number 15003-006.


Evertson is spending 21 months in the Sheridan, Oregon, federal prison for an environmental “crime” in which no environmental harm occurred and during the commissioning of which he was trying to find a way to help the environment.

Evertson had no history of legal problems, and a long history of charitable service – especially in teaching sign language to deaf young people, a talent he learned while coping with a severe stutter that partially lingers to this day. He is described in federal court documents as a “good-natured, kind, gentle person.”

Now 54, Evertson has been a science wiz since grade school, and won the Kailua Intermediate School science fair in Hawaii for research into making bio-chemical fuel cells using coconut juice.

Ever since then, he has dreamed of developing an inexpensive, mass-use fuel cell that could be used to generate power without polluting the air. His enthusiasm for the project is such that Evertson will gladly talk at length, providing scientific explanations, with citations, of why his cell will work to produce “clean energy” if only a few kinks can be worked out.

And it seems nobody doubts his basic science, only the practicality of making it available for widespread use by the general public.

Yet Evertson was convicted after being charged by federal prosecutors for allegedly violating obscure regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency by “abandoning” semi-hazardous waste that actually had been meticulously saved, sealed and stored with a friend.

“This is how we reward innovators in America?” asked senior legal policy analyst Andrew Grossman of the Heritage Foundation, his inflection turning the statement into a question. “They wind up in jail?…. This isn’t the way regulation is supposed to work.”

Among Grossman’s assignments at the conservative Washington think tank is working with former Attorney General Edwin A Meese on the foundation’s Over-criminalization Project.

The project was initiated by Meese, who heads Heritage’s Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, to oppose the growing trend in government and the legal community in which trivial conduct is punished as a crime.

Evertson’s story has become a favorite illustration in Meese’s efforts. It is a tale that must be told in two parts, both of which ended in court rooms, which you will find here and here. And go here for additional background on groups from across the political spectrum in the legal community who are uniting to do something about over-criminalization.

Thanks to Andrew Grossman