Biden administration to revisit federal decision that advanced plans for Ambler Road

The Biden administration is revisiting a Trump-era decision that advanced plans for a more than 200-mile industrial road along the Brooks Range in Alaska.
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 5:58 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - President Joe Biden’s administration is planning to revisit a Trump-era decision that advanced plans for a more than 200-mile industrial road connecting the Dalton Highway and the Ambler Mining District along the southern Brooks Range.

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the Department of the Interior, filed documents in federal court on Tuesday asking U.S. District Judge Sharon Gleason to let the agency conduct supplemental analysis on an environmental impact study done while Trump was in office that allowed the plan for the road to advance. The move is a setback for the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency that is spearheading the effort to build the Ambler Road, which would open up access to valuable minerals in the area.

In the documents, the Interior Department said it had identified “substantial concerns” in regard to the previous analysis of impacts to subsistence uses, and the “adequacy of government-to-government consultation with tribes.” Several tribal groups have sued the federal government over the proposed road, citing concerns over its impacts to subsistence use resources.

Of particular concern has been the potential impact to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd. The 211-mile road would cross over the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

In the court filing, the Interior Department said it had determined it will “undertake additional analysis.”

“The department intends to supplement the applicable environmental impact statement to more thoroughly address the impacts and resources identified as areas of concern in this litigation,” the documents state.

At the same time, the Interior Department said it intends to suspend right-of-way permits that had been obtained by the state agency in order to “preserve the environmental status quo.”

According to a fact sheet from the Bureau of Land Management, the proposed road would take four to six years to build and cost about $350 million. The development and export authority has said that access to the Ambler Mining District could result in the creation of close to 4,000 jobs and $300 million in annual wages if mining opportunities in the area were realized.

Alaska’s congressional delegation reacted to the news of the Biden administration’s plans to revisit the road project, with Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Tuesday calling the administration’s mining policies “incoherent.”

“It’s stunning,” she said in a prepared statement. “On the very same day the President attempted to tout ‘progress’ on mineral development, his administration backtracked and set back this crucial project, which will enable Alaska to responsibly produce a range of needed minerals.”

Rep. Don Young said in the statement that the court filings could not have come at a worse time, as the U.S. continues to be impacted by global supply chain issues that have “seriously constrained the availability of critical minerals.”

“Frankly, we can and should be responsibly developing critical minerals here in Alaska instead of continuing to be reliant on adversarial nations and the whims of geopolitical faceoffs,” Young said in the statement.

According to the tribal groups that filed a lawsuit against the project in 2020, one major concern with it is making sure fishing resources are protected.

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