ALASKA

Photo: JLS Photography

Photo: JLS Photography

LEGAL UPDATES

Summer 2016

Together with local counsel, and on behalf of affected Alaskan youth petitioners, the Our Children's Trust team is currently drafting a petition for rulemaking asking the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to adopt GHG emissions limits, in order to put Alaska on the global climate stabilization trajectory. Pursuant to Alaska statutes, the DEC has "primary responsibility" for the adoption and enforcement of regulations regarding Alaska’s natural resources "to the end that the state may fulfill its responsibility as trustee of the environment for the present and future generations." If you live in Alaska and would like to get involved, please contact us.  

September/October, 2014

Youth Ask Alaska Supreme Court to Declare the Atmosphere a Public Trust Resource, but Court Leaves its Decision Intact

On behalf of youth plaintiffs, the Our Children's Trust legal team filed a Motion for Rehearing with the Alaska Supreme Court. Though the Alaska Supreme Court decision issued on September 12 is a strong one for climate recovery law in many respects, it did not provide the youth with the full remedy they sought. While the decision confirms that the courts have the ability to issue a public trust designation for any resource, rejects many of the state's defenses against the youths’ case, and expressly states that the youth plaintiffs "made a good case" that the atmosphere should be designated as a public trust resource, the Court then ruled that it could not afford any relief that would have real consequence in resolving the dispute.

The petition for rehearing was denied by the Alaska Court on October 28, 2014.

September 12, 2014 

Alaska Supreme Court Moves Climate Law Forward, but Falls Short of Granting Youth the Full Remedies they Seek

The Alaska Supreme Court issued important rulings in a case brought by Alaskan youth to address climate disruption and protect their public trust resources in Alaska. While falling short of granting the relief sought by the youth, the Court wrote that the youth “make a good case. . . that the atmosphere is an asset of the public trust, with the State as trustee and the public as beneficiary”. The Court agreed with the youth that the State of Alaska has obligations to combat climate change, calling the science of anthropogenic climate change “compelling,” and citing numerous climate science studies and reports. The Court also stated that the atmosphere and the ecosystems it protects should be subject to constitutional protections even without the Court’s legal declaration. Nonetheless, the Court found that for “prudential reasons” it would not order the relief requested by the plaintiffs. The youth will ask the Court to reconsider its decision.

“The Court did some really good things in this decision today by ruling that people have the right to be in court because of harms from climate disruption and by underscoring the importance of the constitutional public trust doctrine,” said Brad DeNoble, counsel for the youth plaintiffs. “We will ask the Court to reconsider their essential role in enforcing the public trust. The Court agrees that the legislative and executive branches must protect all public trust resources, but when those branches fail to meet their fiduciary duty to do so, it has always been up to the courts to intervene. That is why our founders created the judiciary in the first place, as a check on the other branches. So, we will ask the Court to reconsider its essential role in enforcing the state’s public trust fiduciary responsibility as it relates to the atmosphere.”

“I hope the Court will take another look at whether they have a role to play in protecting our future. Determining our rights is critical when we are facing such life-changing impacts in our State from climate disruption,” reflected youth plaintiff Nelson Kanuk. “When our legislature and executive aren’t doing anything, where else can we turn? And how long must we wait and watch our ice melt and our food sources diminish? What if the political will comes when it’s too late? The Court should not wait to be a check on the other branches of government after it’s too late to matter. This is their moment and we’ll keep asking until someone answers with the help we need.”

Read the decision here.

Read the press release here.

October 3, 2013

Alaska Supreme Court Hears Youths' Climate Change Case

Six youth plaintiffs’ climate change lawsuit was heard before the Alaska Supreme Court at Barrow High School, in a town known as Ground Zero for climate change impacts. The youth brought the case to force Alaska, which is on the front lines of the climate crisis, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in order to help reverse global warming and protect the state’s natural resources as required by the Alaska Constitution. As part of an educational program of the State’s Supreme Court, hundreds of high school students attended the oral arguments, held in the high school auditorium, and were able to ask the attorneys questions after the hearing.

Brad De Noble, plaintiffs’ attorney, argued that the Alaska Constitution requires the government to protect and preserve the atmosphere for the benefit of both current and future generations. The youth’s constitutional claims may be, what some scholars call, our best shot at a comprehensive approach to address the climate crisis, in contrast to a piecemeal approach of sector-by-sector greenhouse gas regulations. The youths’ case seeks to establish across-the-board protection of the atmosphere for current and future generations.

“The greatest threat to Alaska, its people and its natural resources is the impairment of the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gas emissions,” said De Noble. “The constitutional public trust doctrine imposes an affirmative fiduciary obligation on the State to reduce such emissions to ensure that the plaintiffs and future generations inherit a viable a viable atmosphere.”

In bringing this lawsuit, the youth are driven by their own struggles with climate change and by the alarming research of our nation’s top scientists. For more than two years, Nelson Kanuk, a freshman at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and one of the youth plaintiffs in the case, has been speaking out about the impacts of climate change on his native community of Kipnuk and to his own home, which was destroyed due to flooding and melting permafrost earlier this year. Kanuk has spoken across the country as a witness of climate impacts and as a young representative of native and indigenous communities. Kanuk and fellow plaintiff, Katherine Dolma, a high school senior from Homer, both made the trek to Barrow to hear their case argued.

“It’s important that this case about our public trust is being unveiled in front of the students in Barrow, because it’s giving them an opportunity to truly see how serious this climate change battle is,” said Kanuk who was in the Barrow High School for the arguments. “It will show them whether or not their leaders are willing to protect what they are about to inherit, their world.”

“It is an incredible opportunity to have a case, which will directly impact our futures and the environment we will be living in, presented in front of youth,” agreed Dolma.

November 16, 2012

Six young appellants and their guardians filed the opening brief of their appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. The appeal was filed after Superior Court Judge Sen. K. Tan dismissed their constitutional climate change lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. 

Read the press release. 

March 2012

The trial court granted the government's motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs will appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. 

February 15, 2012

Brad DeNoble argued for the plaintiffs at their hearing on the state's motion to dismiss. 

August 2011

The state of Alaska filed a motion to dismiss the youths' case, and their attorneys are preparing a response. 

July 2011

The legal team working with OCT in Alaska, attorneys Brad DeNoble and Daniel Kruse, file an amended complaint against the State of Alaska's Department of Natural Resources.