Reversing a pro-mining ruling from the Trump Administration, the Biden Administration’s Department of Interior says it will not allow work on the road to the Ambler Mining District to proceed. Instead, it wants to review what it says was a faulty environmental impact statement process.
Work on the permitting for that state road started before 2010, with Gov. Sean Parnell advancing it as a “Roads to Resources” initiative. Tribes and environmentalists have opposed the road.
The announcement by the Department of Justice and Department of Interior was delayed until after Sen. Lisa Murkowski had left the Alaska Capitol today, where she had given remarks to the Alaska Legislature in a joint session. She didn’t mention the Ambler Road in her remarks, but referred to a mining task force at the Department of Interior. Many in Washington, D.C. knew in advance that the decision would be against Alaska’s interest in mining development at Ambler.
“Today the Department of Justice ﬁled a response brief in the U.S. District Court for Alaska related to the development of a 211-mile road that would provide access to the Ambler Mining District in northwest Alaska. As authorized, the Ambler Road would cross the traditional homeland of many Alaska Native communities, including Koyukon, Tanana Athabascans and lﬁupiat peoples. The road would cross 25 discontinuous miles of BLM-managed land and 26 miles of NPS-managed land within the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve,” Justice wrote.
”The Interior Department is asking the court to remand the right-of-way decision to the agency to correct the signiﬁcant deﬁciencies we have identiﬁed in the underlying analyses. During the review, the Department will reconsider the analyses related to National Environmental Protection Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act,” the statement said.
“Additionally, the Interior Department will suspend the right-of-way for the road during the review period to ensure that no ground-disturbing activity takes place that could potentially impact the resources in question,” DOI said.
The decision is a blow to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state agency that is the leader in trying to get the road built from the Dalton Highway to the mining district.
Late in the evening, the Alaska delegation issued a lengthy statement, in which all three members criticized the Biden Administration:
“America’s lack of mineral security should be one of the Biden administration’s highest priorities, but its incoherent policies are making the problem worse. It’s stunning: 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,” Sen. Murkowski said in her statement. “This decision will harm Alaska, including the Alaska Natives who support and will benefit from this project. Nor could it come at a worse time: how can the Biden administration possibly watch Russia leverage Europe on natural gas, and then decide to put the United States in the exact same position on minerals? We will hold the administration to an aggressive timeline for the completion of this analysis and expect them to allow as much work on the project as possible to continue, even as that occurs.”
“This filing is a continuation of the Biden administration’s self-destructive policies that target Alaska families and American workers while seriously undermining our national security,” Sen. Dan Sullivan said in his statement. “As has been the case with many of this administration’s executive actions, the only winners are the far-left radical environmental groups that want to shut down all Alaska economic opportunities, and aggressive dictators like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and the Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, both of whom can hardly believe their luck that the leader of the free world—their biggest adversary—continues to unilaterally disarm America in some of our nation’s most important areas of strength: energy, natural resources and critical minerals.”
“Today’s move by the Department of the Interior could not have come at a worse time. We are in the midst of a continued global supply chain crisis that has 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,” Congressman Don Young said in his statement. “At this very moment, Vladimir Putin and his cronies appear to have their sights set on invading Ukraine. Why, then, would President Biden reward Putin by hamstringing our economy and Alaskan mining operations by burying the proposed Ambler Road project under mountains of paperwork and bureaucracy? This is not just bad policy but also an affront to our national security. The Ambler project represents a tremendous opportunity for our state, and it has successfully undergone legally required environmental reviews, including an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). To require another EIS is a significant waste of both taxpayer dollars and employee resources.”
Senate challenger Kelly Tshibaka, who is trying to unseat Sen. Murkowski, also commented, saying that when Murkowski voted to confirm Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior, that had consequences for Alaska.
“Once again, from over 4,000 miles away, Deb Haaland has decided that she knows more about how Alaska should manage its natural resources than we do. By undertaking further study of the Ambler mining road, she is simply employing the environmental extremist tactic to kill a project they oppose. Even though Haaland has never set foot in Alaska, despite promises to visit to hear our concerns and learn about our priorities, she has repeatedly enacted the Biden Administration policies that directly attack our industries, our working families, and our entire state economy. No other state has been specifically and systematically targeted as Alaska has been under Biden and Haaland,” Tshibaka said.
“I support development, infrastructure, mining, and job creation occurring in a process that includes the perspective of all affected Alaskans, because we know better how to responsibly use our own resources than some cabal of unelected Washington, D.C. bureaucrats. We can address the concerns of Alaska Native communities without shutting down the road completely.
“To be clear: Deb Haaland would not be the Secretary of the Interior without Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who cast the tie-breaking committee vote to advance Haaland’s nomination for final confirmation. Murkowski even expressed reservations about Haaland’s radical environmental positions and the harm she could cause Alaska, but she voted for her anyway to please her D.C. pals. Murkowski continues to talk a big game about infrastructure, but all we see here in Alaska are projects getting killed by federal bureaucrats she put in charge. When I am the next senator from Alaska, I will always do what is in the best interests of our state, and look for nominees who know how to get to ‘yes’ on issues that are important to us, instead of beginning and ending at ‘no,’” Tshibaka said.