March 26, 2019
Alaska Native groups, the League of Women Voters Alaska, and 31 law professors from 26 law schools filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs with the Alaska Supreme Court in support of 16 young Alaskans and their constitutional climate lawsuit, Sinnok v. State of Alaska. Attorneys for the youth plaintiffs also filed their opening brief with the Court today.
November 29, 2018
The youth plaintiffs file their notice of appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court.
October 30, 2018
Read the decision.
April 20, 2018
CONSTITUTIONAL CLIMATE LAWSUIT BROUGHT BY YOUNG ALASKANS HEARD IN ANCHORAGE
Today, Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller for the Third Judicial District in Anchorage heard oral arguments on the State’s motion to dismiss in Sinnok v. State of Alaska, the climate lawsuit brought by 16 Alaskan youth. The youth plaintiffs allege that the State is violating their constitutional rights by contributing to climate change and putting fossil fuel production above the safety of their lives. They are calling on the court to remedy the violations of their constitutional rights by ordering the defendants to prepare a plan to reduce Alaska’s emissions in line with a science-based prescription to stabilize the climate system.
Read the press release.
October 27, 2017
FOLLOWING DENIAL OF CLIMATE RULEMAKING PETITION, ALASKAN YOUTH TAKE GOVERNOR WALKER TO COURT
Alleging that the state is violating their constitutional rights by putting fossil fuel production above the safety of their lives, 16 young Alaskans filed a constitutional climate change lawsuit against the State of Alaska, Governor Bill Walker, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Larry Hartig, and five state agencies.
Read the complaint.
Read the press release.
September 27, 2017
STATE OF ALASKA DENIES YOUTH THE RIGHT TO A SAFE CLIMATE
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) denied a climate change rulemaking petition brought by 15 youth petitioners from across the state. The petition called on the ADEC to reduce CO2 emissions according to the best available climate science, inventory substantial sources of GHG emissions, and adopt a Climate Action Plan.
Read press release here.
August 28, 2017
Today 15 Alaskan youth from communities on the frontlines of climate change and Alaska Youth for Environmental Action filed a petition for rulemaking to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC). The petition calls on ADEC to reduce Alaska’s CO2 emissions according to best available climate science, inventory substantial sources of the state’s GHG emissions, and adopt a Climate Action Plan.
YOUTH AK 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.”
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.
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.
The state of Alaska filed a motion to dismiss the youths' case, and their attorneys are preparing a response.
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.