• Climate change lawsuit in Barrow goes to judge
Homer High Senior Katherine Dolma took part in a lawsuit that argues state governments have an obligation to protect the atmosphere from excessive carbon emissions.
Dolma helped argue the case in her joined efforts with the main plaintiff Nelson Kanuk, a freshman at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His family’s home in the 600-person village of Kipnuk became uninhabitable because of spring floods, melting permafrost and erosion. This summer, his parents, two brothers and three sisters moved to Bethel, about 100 miles away.
“So we’re thinking of hopefully rebuilding our home in Kipnuk, or we might move to possibly Kenai,” Kanuk told Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe in Barrow last week. “Somewhere we can start over.”
The case was argued before a combination of the public and the school; a chance to show a legal case so that a broader group of people might learn how the system works.
The state made arguments that the court should dismiss the case on the grounds that climate change is a political question that only lawmakers and the governor can address — not the courts.
They also argue the injury to these youths from climate change is so slight that they don’t have legal standing. And they argued the atmosphere, unlike, say, clean water, isn’t a public trust resource that the state has a legal obligation to protect.
Kanuk is one of six young Alaskans suing the state, with help from the organization “Our Children’s Trust.” The Oregon-based nonprofit filed lawsuits on behalf of young plaintiffs against nine states and the federal government. The lawsuits ask the states to consider the atmosphere a public trust and to exercise their duty to protect it.
Part of the argument is that if the state of Alaska can manage other natural resources under its control — for example, by issuing hunting or fishing licenses — it should also be able to manage what’s released into the atmosphere.
Alaska Chief Justice Dana Fabe didn’t give a timetable for when to expect a decision. Opinions typically come months after arguments are heard.
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