Alaska governor sued for not tackling temperature rise

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A group of young Alaskans sued state officials Friday for allegedly undermining their constitutional rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels and exposing them to the risks of climate change.

The plaintiffs filed the case in response to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision last month to deny their petition seeking reduced carbon emissions.

Department Commissioner Larry Hartig said last month that the plaintiffs’ goals to cut greenhouse gases goes “beyond current federal requirements.”

Alaska has a minuscule role to play in fighting climate change, he said. “It is also important to recognize that climate change and greenhouse gas emissions are global issues,” he added.

The plaintiffs, comprised of 16 adolescents and young adults, said they are suing because climate change is eroding the land where they live, shifting the movements of animals they eat and fueling wildfires that lap at their communities.

“Climate change is already harming, and threatens the very existence of my home village of Shishmaref and my native culture,” Esau Sinnok, 19, said in a statement.

Our Children’s Trust, a legal nonprofit based in Oregon, is behind the case. It’s one of several climate-related lawsuits organized by the group against U.S. states. The trust also represents a different set of young plaintiffs suing the Trump administration to push the federal government to phase out fossil fuels (Climatewire, June 29).

The Alaska lawsuit asks a state court to find that the plaintiffs are being deprived of “life, liberty and property.” It claims that state officials are failing to slash emissions with “deliberate indifference.”

Among the defendants is Gov. Bill Walker (I), along with the Department of Environmental Conservation; Hartig, the conservation commissioner; the state Department of Natural Resources; the state Conservation Commission; the Alaska Energy Authority; and the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

The plaintiffs are urging the court to order Walker and Hartig to develop a “carbon budget” — a metric of how much fossil fuels can be safely burned.

“The state government’s actions and inactions violate the constitution rights of my clients who come from across Alaska, and we are going to court to protect those rights,” said Brad De Noble, a lawyer in the case.