Alaska Native and Environmental Law Class

Alaska Natives and Environmental Law (4 course credits)

Professors Stephanie Nichols and Sam Kalen

This course examines the laws governing Alaska Natives and Environmental Law. 

The first part of the course will provide a framework for understanding the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), one of the most unique pieces of legislation ever passed in the United States Congress, and legislation that has had some of the most significant impact for Alaska.  Without ANCSA, Alaska would be a very different state today.  This part of the course will also examine how politics and oil not only shaped this significant piece of legislation, but how ANCSA has forever changed the legal landscape for Alaska Natives.  We will review some of the foundational documents that led to the passage of ANCSA and analyze the detail and policy behind them. 

The second part of the course will set out basic environmental law while examining environmental issues that have particular effect on Alaska Natives, such as environmental impacts of large resource extraction, oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the effects and interaction of climate change, etc. Alaska has a unique environment.  It contains large amounts of resources within its jurisdiction, and it is rightly praised as having some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.  It is also home to unique species and a very fragile ecosystem.  In many of these respects, it is different from much of the rest of the United States.  Because of its northern latitude, Alaska is also exhibiting more immediate impacts of global warming, the defining environmental issue of the future.

Finally, the last week of the course will explore drilling and resource development in the waters of the Alaskan Arctic.  Drilling for oil off the northern Alaska coast promises to be one of the more contentious domestic energy issues in the coming years.  Offshore drilling provides a useful lens through which to examine a number of environmental statutes.  The drilling itself is principally governed by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA ), a statute that creates a multi-stage process beginning with the identification of suitable areas for development and ending with actual production.  Finally, offshore drilling implicates a great number of issues that relate to how resource development should occur in Alaska and more generally what U.S. energy policy should aim to achieve.