Alaska Supreme Court to Hear Youth’s Climate Change Lawsuit
WASHINGTON – The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit claiming the state’s policy on fossil fuels harms the constitutional rights of young Alaskans to a safe climate.
In 2017, 16 young people filed suit over a state statute that says it is the official policy of the Alaska government to promote fossil fuels.
The suit, Sinnok v. Alaska, is being supported by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting natural systems for present and future generations.
It claims that under the state’s constitution, water, fish, wildlife, air and the ocean are a public trust resource held for maximum benefit of its people.
On Wednesday, a central question before the court, as in previous federal and state lawsuits, will be the role of courts in shaping climate policy.
Attorneys for 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, and the one currently before the state Supreme Court, was filed in October 2017 by Alaskans who at the time ranged in age from 5 to 20.
Anchorage Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller in October 2018 dismissed the lawsuit, citing the 2011 case and other precedents.
On Wednesday, a five-justice panel of the Alaska Supreme Court will hear an hour of oral arguments during which attorneys Andrew Welle, of Eugene, Ore., and Brad De Noble, of Eagle River, Alaska, will argue Judge Miller should have allowed the youth’s case to proceed on constitutional grounds.
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.
The lawsuit 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 hearing is being livestreamed here.
In The News
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,... Read More
WASHINGTON - The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit claiming the state's policy on fossil fuels harms the constitutional rights of young Alaskans to a safe climate. In 2017, 16 young people filed suit over a state statute that says it is... Read More
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday will announce plans to aid corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel, capping weeks of deliberations over how to temper a wave of criticism from biofuel advocates in the U.S. Midwest. The Environmental Protection Agency is slated to announce several changes... Read More
NEW YORK — Former California Gov. Jerry Brown famously said last year that California would launch its “own damn satellite” to track climate change in defiance of the Trump administration. On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom will announce a new approach and way to pay for it.... Read More
The planet is in hot water — literally — and that will have dire consequences for humanity, warns a new United Nations report on the state of the world’s oceans and ice. Over the next century, climate change will make the oceans warmer and more acidic.... Read More
UNITED NATIONS — Dozens of world leaders touted their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the United Nations Climate Action Summit Monday, but they were largely upstaged by youth activists angry at officials for not doing enough to prevent a catastrophic heating of the planet.... Read More