U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, recently sent a letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland reiterating their strong support for the Ambler Access Project (Ambler Road).
But Alaska’s Congresswoman Mary Peltola would not sign the letter, even though when she was running for office earlier this year, she said in a media survey that she would support the road, stating “Yes, pending local support, usage restrictions, and environmental standards are met.”
Peltola, who is finishing out the term of the late Congressman Don Young, is now running for the two-year seat and her name will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, along with Nick Begich, Sarah Palin, and Chris Bye.
The senators called on the Department of the Interior to promptly complete its work to re-approve the Ambler Road following DOI’s request for a voluntary remand of the project’s Record of Decision. Murkowski and Sullivan specifically urged Interior to commit to a concrete timeline, allow the project proponent to continue important baseline scientific work, and allow geotechnical drilling to proceed.
The senators also reiterated that failure to satisfy the court’s remand order in a timely and narrow manner would defy federal law, prevent hardworking Alaskans from accessing jobs that support their families at a time of painfully high inflation, and worsen projected shortfalls of strategic minerals and metals that are crucial to clean energy and many other technologies.
“This Congressionally-mandated access is essential to ensuring the economic stability of both Alaska and the nation. In Alaska alone, the Project has the potential to facilitate over 8,700 direct, indirect, and induced construction and operation jobs and nearly $700 million in annual wages. That would be top of an annual average of 360 direct jobs over the road’s construction period, and up to 81 direct annual jobs for road operations and maintenance over the life of the road.”
“Given assurances that the remand would be “timely” and given the importance of the Project to Alaska and national security, we are concerned that DOI’s first status report, filed with the Court on July 18, 2022, indicated the Department was “not yet able to identify a timeframe for completion of a draft and final supplemental environmental impact statement.” We anecdotally understand that the timeframe could be up to three years, which is categorically unacceptable and deeply contrary to every reasonable expectation for how the voluntary remand would proceed.
“Given the seven years of cooperation between all applicable federal agencies, the comprehensive [Joint Record of Decision], and the Congressionally-recognized importance of completing the Project on an expedited basis, we urge you to take the necessary steps to move the Project forward and complete the voluntary remand in a timely, workable, and definitive timeframe. Otherwise, DOI will jeopardize economic and national security by increasing our reliance on adversaries like China for those strategic minerals necessary for our defense, competitiveness, and future prosperity.”
The Ambler Road would provide access to mining district and facilitate the responsible development of high-grade mineral deposits—including copper, cobalt, zinc, silver, gold, and other metals—in northwest Alaska. A right-of-way across federal land is guaranteed by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). These critical minerals are crucial to all aspects of modern technology and national security and will help prevent the shortfalls that S&P Global, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and others have forecast in recent months.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority initially submitted its application to develop the 211-mile Ambler Road project in November 2015, making this the seventh full year of federal regulatory review. The Bureau of Land Management published a draft EIS on August 30, 2019 and held 22 public meetings in local communities, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Washington, DC prior to issuing a favorable ROD in July 2020.
Despite that, the Biden administration sought and won approval to voluntarily remand the ROD on February 22, 2022. With no apparent sense of irony, President Biden held a roundtable on “Securing Critical Minerals for a Future Made in America” that very same day—failing to recognize that the Ambler Mining District is one of the nation’s best options to produce them.
On Sept. 20, 2022, BLM initiated a 45-day public scoping process for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Ambler Road project. BLM’s notice of intent states that the agency will evaluate a “range of alternatives” related to a range of topics but provides no timeframe for the completion of this additional review.