Eight young people from Alaska are suing their state government, claiming a major new North Slope natural gas project violates their constitutional rights.

By Cristen Hemingway Jaynes

The plaintiffs — who range in age from 11 to 22 — allege that a law mandating development of the Alaska Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) Project infringes on the protection of their health and livelihood from the release of dangerous greenhouse gases, reported Reuters.

“Alaska’s youth are on the front lines of the climate crisis, and their futures depend on a swift transition away from fossil fuel,” said Andrew Welle, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit law firm representing the plaintiffs, as Reuters reported.

Recently, two climate change lawsuits brought by youth in Alaska were dismissed. In the most recent — dismissed in 2022 — the state supreme court said courts were not able to order sweeping policy changes.

The current youth plaintiffs said their suit complies with earlier rulings of the court, however, since it focuses on an individual project, rather than challenging broad state fossil fuel policies.

The Alaska LNG Project would involve constructing a treatment plant for natural gas on Alaska’s North Slope, reported The Guardian. A liquefaction plant on the pristine Kenai Peninsula and an 800-mile pipeline stretching across the state would also be built.

The lawsuit said the $38.7 billion project, proposed by the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, would triple greenhouse gas emissions for the state for decades to come.

“[Y]outh plaintiffs are uniquely vulnerable to and disproportionately injured by the climate harms that would result from the Alaska LNG Project,” the lawsuit said, as The Guardian reported.

The pipeline would bisect Alaska, carrying billions of cubic feet of gas daily from the North Slope through local communities, reported Reuters.

The youth plaintiffs said they are already experiencing breathing issues caused by smoke from climate change-fueled wildfires, as well as other harms such as a diminished ability to subsistence fish and hunt.

They argued that the Alaska LNG project would exacerbate climate change and asked the court to declare the state law mandating its development unconstitutional and stop it from proceeding.

The young Alaskans also requested a declaration that the state constitution include a right to a climate system that is life-sustaining. Alaska is the fastest-warming state in the country.

“[The Alaska LNG project] would drastically increase Alaska’s emissions at a time when climatologists are telling us that they need to be rapidly reduced in order to protect the health and safety of young people,” Welle said, as the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Cristen is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from University of Oregon School of Law and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London. She is the author of the short story collection The Smallest of Entryways, as well as the travel biography, Ernest’s Way: An International Journey Through Hemingway’s Life.

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