Esau Sinnok of Shishmaref, Alaska, speaks at a news conference after the Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments on Oct. 9, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska, in a lawsuit that claims state policy on fossil fuels is harming the constitutional right of young Alaskans to a safe climate. The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 16 Alaska youths, who claimed long-term effects of climate change will devastate Alaska and interfere with their individual constitutional rights. (AP File Photo / Mark Thiessen)

Esau Sinnok of Shishmaref, Alaska, speaks at a news conference after the Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments on Oct. 9, 2019, in Anchorage, Alaska, in a lawsuit that claims state policy on fossil fuels is harming the constitutional right of young Alaskans to a safe climate. The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 16 Alaska youths, who claimed long-term effects of climate change will devastate Alaska and interfere with their individual constitutional rights. (AP File Photo / Mark Thiessen)

Alaska court rules against youths in climate change lawsuit

The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 16 young Alaskans.

By Mark Thiessen

Associated Press

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by 16 young Alaskans who claimed long-term effects of climate change will devastate Alaska and interfere with their individual constitutional rights.

The lawsuit against the state of Alaska claimed the state’s legislative and executive branches had not taken steps to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The lower court dismissed the case in 2018, saying these questions were better left to other branches of government.

“The young Alaskans appeal, raising compelling concerns about climate change, resource development, and Alaska’s future. But we conclude that the superior court correctly dismissed their lawsuit,” the Alaska Supreme Court said in its split decision.

During oral arguments before the high court in 2019, the state of Alaska urged the court to affirm the lower court’s rejection of the claim. Assistant Attorney General Anna Jay at the time said the climate change issues raised by the plaintiffs musts be addressed by the political branches of government.

“With today’s decision, a majority of the Alaska Supreme Court betrayed their duty to safeguard the constitutional rights of these youth and serve as a check on the conduct of the state, “Andrew Welle, a lawyer for the young people, said in a statement after the court’s opinion was released.

“The decision not only allows Alaska’s government to continue destroying the conditions necessary for human life, throwing literal and figurative fuel on the fire of an already critical climate crisis, it also makes the court complicit in that conduct, further endangering the health, safety and futures of Alaskan children,” Welle said.

The Alaska Supreme Court acknowledged that it’s not within its jurisdiction to balance the compelling interests involved in managing the state’s resources, a statement released from the office of Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy said.

“Like the young Alaskans that filed this lawsuit, all of us want a sustainable and healthy future for Alaska. Through its policy decisions over the years, the state has achieved an appropriate and effective balance between resource development and environmental protection,” the statement said.

Summer Sagoonick, the lead plaintiff in the cases, was disappointed in the ruling and said it will affect Alaska Natives who count on wildlife and the land for survival.

“Our irreplaceable peoples, lands, cultures, and ecosystems are infinitely more precious than the short-term profits of the fossil fuel industry, which threatens our state economy and our way of life,” Sagoonick, 20, said in a statement. “It will only be a matter of time until the state’s promotion of fossil fuels irreversibly alters the climate we depend on for our lives and culture.”

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau's incumbent delegation to the Alaska State Legislature from left to right: Representative Andi Story, D-Juneau; State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau. All three lawmakers have filed for re-election and are so far running unopposed. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire, Courtesy photo / Jesse Kiehl, Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire)
Local lawmakers all seek reelection

June 1, filing deadline.

Coast Guard aircrews medevaced two people from Dry Bay Airstrip, approximately 30 miles Southeast of Yakutat, Alaska, after their plane crashed, May 25, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Coast Guard District 17)
Three medevaced after plane crash near Yakutat

All four aboard were injured, three critically so.

The author’s appreciation for steelhead has turned into something like reverence considering what’s happening to populations in the Lower 48 and Canada. (Jeff Lund / For the Juneau Empire)
I Went to the Woods: Silent steel

“You forget most of what ends up in the freezer, but those steelhead, they stick with you.”

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, seen here in this June 16, 2021, file photo, announced Wednesday he will not seek relelection in the Alaska State Senate, where he has served since 2013. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Senate president says he won’t run again

“Honor and a privilege.”

Hoonah’s Alaska Youth Stewards helped make improvements to Moby and water the plants in summer 2021. (Courtesy Photo / Jillian Schuyler)
Resilient Peoples & Place: Moby the Mobile Greenhouse cultivates community

It presents opportunities to grow food knowledge and skills.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Thursday, May 26, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read