Youth Take Alaska Governor to Court Over Climate Responsibility
A group of 16 Alaska youth have filed suit against Governor Bill Walker, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig, and five state agencies, contending the state violated their constitutional rights by putting fossil fuel production above their safety.
“The youth filed the lawsuit after the Alaska DEC, headed by Hartig, issued a denial of the climate change rulemaking petition they filed in August,” explains Eugene, OR-based Our Children’s Trust, which is representing the youth in court. “That petition had called on the Alaska DEC to reduce CO2 emissions according to the best available climate science, inventory substantial sources of GHG emissions, and adopt a Climate Action Plan.”
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In his department’s denial of the petition, Hartig responded in part that “the extent of emission reductions proposed in the petition would have significant consequences for employment, resource development, power generation, health, culture, and other economic and social interests within the state.” Not surprisingly, the youth see things very differently.
“Climate change is already harming, and threatens the very existence of, my home village of Shishmaref and my native culture,” said 19-year-old lead plaintiff Esau Sinnok. “Because of climate change, the island where my ancestors have lived for over 4,000 years is being eroded away into the sea. My children might not be able to see what life on Shishmaref once was. It’s time Alaska stopped promoting fossil fuels at the expense of young people and started protecting our rights to a stable climate system.”
“Climate change is causing irreversible damage to the Alaskan environment and its people,” agreed 18-year-old plaintiff Sebastien Kurland of Juneau. “The government is more focused on immediate revenue from the fossil fuel industry than on the long-term welfare of the state and its population, and that needs to change.”
“I have been fortunate to grow up in Southeast Alaska, an incredibly wild and beautiful place, and a place on the front lines of climate change,” said 13-year-old Linnea Lentfer of Gustavus, AK. “We are filing this case to preserve our unique lifestyle for our peers, and the next generation. We are asking the state to integrate climate science into their policy and preserve our health, lifestyle, and culture.”