Feb 23, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden admin suspends Alaska mining road plans approved in Trump era

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland delivers remarks at the 2021 Tribal Nations Summit,mber 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Biden administration asked a court Tuesday to send a Trump-era permit approval for an Alaska mining road running through Indigenous territory back to the Interior Department for further analysis of its environmental impacts.

Why it matters: "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," the department said in an emailed statement.

  • The Department of Justice's response brief filing in the U.S. District Court for Alaska, on behalf of the Interior Department, suspends the federal rights-of-way for the 211-mile road that would provide access to the Ambler Mining District in northwest Alaska.

The big picture: Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) and congressional delegates in the state see the road that was approved in July 2020 as essential to accessing valuable deposits found in the area, including copper, cobalt, zinc, silver and gold.

  • Indigenous leaders and environmental groups have said it would "devastate" the pristine and "fragile arctic tundra’s landscape, biodiversity, and Native livelihood."
  • The Ambler Metals joint venture between Australian mining company South32, the Vancouver-based Trilogy Metal and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority had set aside $60 million for this year "in preparation for the road and associated mines in the area," the Washington Post notes.

What they're saying: Brian Ridley, president of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a nonprofit representing 42 tribes in interior Alaska, said in a statement calling for the state of Alaska to drop the road proposal altogether that they appreciated the Biden administration's action.

  • "Ambler road represents a fundamental threat to our people, our subsistence way of life and our cultural resources," Ridley said.

The other side: Alaska's Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young issued a joint statement criticizing the Biden administration for hurting U.S. mineral projects during a global supply chain crisis, noting that permitting began during the Obama administration.

  • Murkowski noted in the statement that the Biden administration had announced plans earlier Tuesday aimed at bolstering U.S. development and processing of key minerals used in electric cars and other energy applications.
  • "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," she said.

Read the full filing, obtained by the Anchorage Daily News, via DocumentCloud:

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