Justices uphold dismissal of climate lawsuit brought by 16 young Alaskans

The young plaintiffs gathered with their attorneys and supporters outside the Nesbett Courthouse in Anchorage after oral arguments in 2018. (Rachel Waldholz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled against a group of teens and young adults who sued the state trying to change its approach to fossil fuel production. The lawsuit said the state’s promotion of oil and gas extraction contributes to a climate crisis that threatens their way of life.

In Friday’s 68-page decision, the justices upheld a lower court’s dismissal of the case. They said natural resource policy is a political question for the Legislature and state agencies to decide. Courts ensure that particular statutes and decisions comply with the Constitution, the opinion says, but the Constitution gives the Legislature the power to set the proper balance between development and environmental protection.

The case, called Sagoonick v. State, was brought by 16 young Alaskans, represented by an attorney from Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit.

This is the second climate change case brought by young Alaskans to be dismissed before trial. The first, Kanuk v. State, was tossed out on similar grounds.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.

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