Alaska Supreme Court Hears Youths’ Climate Change Lawsuit

October 10, 2019 by Dan McCue
Plaintiffs in a major climate change lawsuit strike their “power pose” outside the Boney Courthouse in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo via Facebook)

WASHINGTON – Alaska’s government-mandated embrace of fossil fuel development is devastating the nation’s northernmost state and infringing on the constitutional rights of young residents to a healthy environment, a lawyer for 16 young plaintiffs told the Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Two years ago, the plaintiffs, who then ranged in age from 5 to 20, filed a lawsuit claiming the long-term effects of climate change exacerbated by human activities such as oil and gas exploration, compromises their rights to life, liberty and the national resources that sustain them.

Since then, argued attorney Andrew Welle of the Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust group, the state’s legislative and executive branches have done nothing to address the plaintiffs’ concerns to the lower greenhouse gas emissions blamed for accelerating climate change.

Our Children’s Trust previously represented Alaska youth in an unsuccessful 2011 lawsuit that sought court intervention because the state had failed to adopt measures to protect young people in Alaska from climate change.

The judge ultimately concluded that courts lack scientific, economic and technological resources that agencies can use to determine climate policy and it was best left in their hands.

A second lawsuit — the one before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday — was filed in October 2017.

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller in October 2018 dismissed the lawsuit, citing the 2011 case and other precedents.

But Welle argued before the five-justice panel of the Alaska Supreme Court that the issue is “squarely within the court’s authority.”

Assistant Attorney General Anna Jay said while she appreciated the youths’ concerns, the issues they raise and the policy changes they are seeking, can only be addressed by the state’s legislature and governor.

In asking the judicial panel to affirm the lower court ruling, Jay said, “the court does not have the tools to engage in the type of legislative policy making endeavor required to formulate a broad state approach to greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The situation is complicated by the fact that Alaska has no state sales or income tax and historically has relied on the petroleum industry for much of its revenue.

The lawsuit asserts human-caused climate change will be catastrophic unless atmospheric carbon dioxide declines.

Among damages already occurring, the suit says, are dangerously increasing temperatures, changing rain and snow patterns, rising seas, storm surge flooding, thawing permafrost, coast erosion and increased wildfires, ocean acidification and violent storms.

Welle asked the court to declare that state actions have violated the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights to a stable climate system.

The plaintiffs also seek to have the state policy on fossil fuels declared invalid and an order directing the state to prepare an accounting of carbon emissions and create a recovery plan.

The court did not indicate when it might rule on the lawsuit.

Climate

Passing Infrastructure Bill, Democrats Go All-In on Climate
Climate
Passing Infrastructure Bill, Democrats Go All-In on Climate

WASHINGTON — The $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill the House passed 233-188 Wednesday has little chance of advancing in the Republican-controlled Senate. But it fired a political warning shot: Democrats view climate change as a top issue for an already turbulent election year. “This bill, as audacious... Read More

House Democrats Will Call for 100% Clean Cars by 2035
Climate
House Democrats Will Call for 100% Clean Cars by 2035

House Democrats on Tuesday will issue an ambitious plan to combat climate change, a move intended to reassure their base of supporters but that’s sure to inflame opponents on the right. The proposal will be released at an event at the U.S. Capitol with Speaker Nancy... Read More

Activists Say Coronavirus Is An Opportunity To Reshape Environmental Policy
Environment
Activists Say Coronavirus Is An Opportunity To Reshape Environmental Policy
April 23, 2020
by Gaspard Le Dem

It’s a big year for the planet. April 22, 2020, marked the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a celebration of the environmental movement that is honored around the world. But many are celebrating Earth Day indoors this year. The coronavirus has confined millions of people to... Read More

Louisiana's Edwards Unveils Coastal Priorities, Names Resilience Officer
State News
Louisiana's Edwards Unveils Coastal Priorities, Names Resilience Officer
February 24, 2020
by Dan McCue

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards this week announced his priorities for the state’s coastal program for the next four years, and in a related move, named G. Charles Sutcliffe as the state’s first chief resilience officer. Edwards also announced the state will receive its maximum payment... Read More

Climate Change, Global Tax Emerge as Snags for G-20 Communique
Climate
Climate Change, Global Tax Emerge as Snags for G-20 Communique

Finance chiefs from the world’s 20 largest economies haggled over climate change and proposals for a global tax regime as they tried to draft a joint communique at a conference overshadowed by a viral outbreak that’s shaken the global economy. Delegates at the G-20 meeting in... Read More

From ‘Hoax’ to ‘Serious’: Why One Former Aide Thinks Trump Shifted on Climate Change
Climate
From ‘Hoax’ to ‘Serious’: Why One Former Aide Thinks Trump Shifted on Climate Change

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s declaration last month that climate change is a “serious subject” marked the completion of a yearlong shift away from his outright denial of the global threat — a shift, according to one former aide, driven by 2020 politics. William Happer, one... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top