Citing climate change, young Alaskans sue to block North Slope gas line project

Eight young Alaskans filed a lawsuit on Wednesday to block a natural gas pipeline from being built they say would unconstitutionally exacerbate climate change.

The plaintiffs — ages 11-22 — want the state to recognize a right to a life-sustaining climate system. They argue state statutes are unconstitutional that require a state corporation to develop an 800-mile natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska.

Unalakleet climate activist Summer Sagoonick, 22, is the named plaintiff in the case. The 82-page complaint states that climate change is already being felt in Alaska with plummeting salmon numbers and changing caribou migratory patterns — among other impacts. The plaintiffs say the pipeline would “substantially increase Alaska’s carbon pollution,” further worsening the impacts of global warming.

Alaska’s Attorney General Treg Taylor said through a prepared statement that the Department of Law had just received a copy of the suit on Wednesday and would be reviewing it carefully.

“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. There is no real question that natural gas is a clean fuel,” he said.

Taylor said blocking a gas line in Alaska would inevitably push gas projects to jurisdictions with less stringent environmental standards. He added that the legal challenge was occurring as Southcentral Alaska faces a looming shortfall of Cook Inlet gas, and utilities make concrete steps to import gas.

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


The constitutional climate lawsuit is one several filed in Alaska by Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based public interest law firm, which is representing the eight young Alaskan plaintiffs. The firm has represented young people in climate-related lawsuits filed in all 50 states and federal court.

Andrew Welle, a supervising senior attorney at the firm, said that the plaintiffs are challenging the proposed gas line because it is the largest fossil fuel project currently being pursued by the state of Alaska.

“It 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,” he said.

Tim Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., said the Alaska Legislature directed the corporation to commercialize North Slope natural gas because of its environmental, economic and energy benefits.

“Alaska LNG has withstood intensive environmental scrutiny by two successive administrations because of its obvious and abundant benefits, which include reducing global emissions by up to 2.3 billion tons and finally ending longstanding air quality problems plaguing Interior Alaska villages and communities,” he said through a prepared statement.

The long-planned gas line has faced a litany of challenges. Earlier in the year, the Legislature threatened to defund the corporation with frustrations that a gas line had not advanced. Top corporation board members told lawmakers if funding could not be secured by the end of the year, they would shut the project down

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the gas line, Welle said the plaintiffs want to secure legal recognition of a right to a climate system that sustains human life, liberty and dignity.

Our Children’s Trust has argued similar cases before Alaska judges in the past.

In 2022, the Alaska Supreme Court — in a split 3-2 decision — dismissed a suit from going to trial that challenged the state’s fossil fuel policies. Sixteen youth plaintiffs argued that those policies exacerbate the climate crisis in Alaska.

The Alaska Constitution says that the state should develop its resources for “the maximum benefit of its people.”

The court’s majority opinion said that the plaintiffs had raised “compelling concerns” about climate change, but the Legislature had consistently interpreted the “maximum benefit” provision to mean that responsible resource development was “essential to Alaska’s economy and residents.”

Two of the court’s current justices — Chief Justice Peter Maassen and Justice Susan Carney — wrote a dissenting opinion. They said state law “requires that we explicitly recognize a constitutional right to a livable climate — arguably the bare minimum when it comes to the inherent human rights to which the Alaska Constitution is dedicated.”

If the gas line case proceeds to the Alaska Supreme Court, Welle said the plaintiffs hoped the other state justices would agree with the court’s prior dissenting opinion.

Last year, young people represented by Our Children’s Trust prevailed in a landmark lawsuit in Montana, when a trial court judge recognized a constitutional right to a livable climate. That case is currently before the Montana Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for July 10.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at