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“I trust that the courts will protect my rights”

A youth group in Alaska is blaming the state for approving a massive gas export project that is expected to triple the region's environmentally harmful emissions in the coming years.

The $38.7 billion Alaska LNG project envisages a gas processing plant on the North Slope of Alaska. The resulting gas will be delivered to Asia.

But the company behind the project, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, is facing its critics in court: The group of 11- to 22-year-olds has sued the Alaska government because it believes it is disproportionately exposed to the problems associated with investing in gas.

Specifically, the group will argue that the gas investments violate the state's constitution, which, as the Guardian noted, “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.”

Although Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor calls gas a “clean fuel,” gas is still a major polluter. The Environmental Protection Agency says that “emissions from natural gas use account for 78% of direct fossil fuel carbon emissions in the residential and commercial sectors in 2022.”

The nonprofit law firm Our Children's Trust is helping the plaintiffs bring the case to court and has already achieved considerable success.

In 2023, Our Children's Trust helped a group of young people from Montana fight the state government over its dirty fuel policies, which they said were exacerbating the climate crisis.

After winning that case – on the grounds that failing to account for planet-warming pollution in future energy projects violated the state constitution – it was expected that similar groups would take legal action to protect their right to a healthy environment.

In the case of Alaska, the issue is not only the impact that fossil fuel projects will have on the fastest-warming state in the United States, but also the impact it will have on the lives of its residents.

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

“We are already seeing huge impacts of climate change on our ability to sustain our livelihoods,” she told the Guardian. “As our water warms and the land erodes, it poses a threat to our food supply and our cultural practices.”

In fact, the state's rivers are turning orange as minerals are released from the melting permafrost. According to the Guardian, this increases the acidity of the water, deteriorates drinking water quality and endangers aquatic animals. After the phenomenon was first observed in 2018, it has led to the extinction of two fish species.

It shouldn't be the responsibility of young people to take governments and extremely wealthy corporations to court because their decisions will impact their future. But the focus, discipline and care shown by this group of children is a message to all of us that we can make meaningful changes to protect our planet and improve the prospects of generations to come.

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

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Anna Harden

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