Young Alaskans sue to block proposed natural gas pipeline project

A group of young Alaskans, backed by a nonprofit legal firm, is suing the state of Alaska and the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corp. in an attempt to block construction of the corporation’s long-planned but economically questionable North Slope natural gas pipeline.

In a complaint filed May 22 in Anchorage Superior Court, the eight plaintiffs argue that the corporation’s founding laws are unconstitutional because the gas pipeline would result in so much climate-altering greenhouse gas that it would endanger their constitutionally guaranteed ability to access Alaska’s fish, wildlife and other natural resources.

The plaintiffs, who range in age from 11 to 22, are supported by Our Children’s Trust, an out-of-state nonprofit that has supported climate-related lawsuits in state and federal courts across the country.

Two years ago, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled against plaintiffs in a broader but similar lawsuit supported by the group. That suit, filed by 16 youth, argued that the state’s policy on fossil fuels violates their constitutional rights. Some of the plaintiffs in that case are parties to the new one.

The decision in the prior case was 3-2 against the plaintiffs, and two of the judges who ruled in favor of the state have since retired.

Last year, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of youth plaintiffs in a similar lawsuit filed in that state.

In the new Alaska lawsuit, plaintiffs contend that the Alaska Constitution contains an implicit right to a livable climate. That issue was raised as a hypothetical in 2022 by the two Alaska Supreme Court justices who dissented from the prior climate lawsuit.

“The right to a climate system that sustains human life, liberty and dignity is both necessary for and foundational to the explicitly enumerated rights reserved by the Alaska Constitution,” the lawsuit says in part. “Without a climate system that sustains human life, liberty and dignity, Youth Plaintiffs cannot grow to adulthood in safety, live long healthy lives, provide for their basic human needs, safely raise families, learn and practice their religious and spiritual beliefs.”

“AGDC is directed by Alaska statute to commercialize North Slope natural gas because of the substantial environmental, economic and energy security benefits it unlocks for our state,” Tim Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for the corporation, said by email.

“On its face, we can see that it is an attempt to block the development of Alaska’s natural gas reserves based on a purported environmental safety rationale. It is a misguided effort,” Attorney General Treg Taylor wrote in an email.

“We are confident that the courts will uphold the Alaska Legislature’s laws providing for the development of an LNG project in Alaska.”

The lawsuit arrives at a key moment for the proposed $40-billion-plus gas pipeline project. State legislators have become increasingly skeptical of AGDC’s plans for a large pipeline that ends in an export terminal, and a plan to defund AGDC was narrowly defeated in this year’s state budget process.

AGDC now appears to be pivoting toward a plan that would involve construction of a smaller $10-billion-plus gas pipeline for in-state use, with a larger pipeline and export terminal to come later.

Either idea would be dependent upon the availability of construction funding, and to date, neither the state nor any private-sector funders have said they are willing to pay for construction.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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