Alaska Supreme Court to Hear Youth’s Climate Change Lawsuit

October 9, 2019 by Dan McCue
Cecily, 9, and Lila, 7, sisters from Homer, Alaska, are plaintiffs in Sinnok v. Alaska, the climate lawsuit the accuses the state of causing climate change, endangering their lives, and destroying the life-sustaining resources they depend.

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.

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