‘I count on the court to protect my rights’

An Alaska youth group is holding the state responsible for agreeing to a massive gas export project that is expected to triple the region’s pollution output in the coming years.

The $38.7 billion Alaska LNG project would bring a gas purifier to Alaska’s North Slope, and the resulting gas would be sent to Asia.

But the company behind the project, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, will have to answer their critics in court, with the group of 11- to 22-year-olds suing the Alaska government because they believe they are disproportionately at risk of the resulting resulting consequences. problems that the investment in gas will entail.

In particular, the group will argue that the gas investment violates the state constitution. As the Guardian noted, this includes “the right to protected natural resources for ‘present and future generations,’ and the right to be free from government interference with life, liberty and property.”

Despite Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor describing gas as a “clean fuel,” gas is still a massive polluter. The Environmental Protection Agency says that “emissions from natural gas consumption will represent 78% of direct fossil fuel CO2 emissions from the residential and commercial sector in 2022.”

Nonprofit law firm Our Children’s Trust is helping the plaintiffs take the case to court, and the organization has already achieved notable success.

In 2023, Our Children’s Trust helped a group of young Montanans fight the state government for pro-dirty fuel policies that they claimed were worsening the climate crisis.

After winning the case — managing to argue that failing to consider planet-warming pollution from future energy projects violated the state constitution — it was expected that similar groups would take legal action to assert their rights to a healthy environment to protect.

The Alaska case is not just about the impact fossil fuel projects will have on the nation’s fastest-warming state, but also about how they will change the lives of indigenous people.

Summer Sagoonick, a 22-year-old plaintiff and member of the Iñupiaq tribe, argued that the project would impact the land so important to her culture.

“We are already seeing huge impacts on our ability to make a living as a result of climate change,” she told the Guardian. “As our waters warm and the land erodes, it threatens our diets and cultural practices.”

Rivers in the state are turning orange as minerals are released from melting permafrost. According to the Guardian, this increases the acidity of the water, reducing the quality of drinking water and endangering aquatic animals. After the phenomenon was first observed in 2018, two fish species have been lost.

It should not be the responsibility of young people to take governments and extremely wealthy corporations to court over the impact their decisions will have on their future. But the focus, discipline and care shown by this group of children is a message to all of us that we can create meaningful change to protect our planet and improve the prospects of future generations.

Sagoonick said, “I am counting on the courts to protect my rights.”

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