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Biden Administration Denies Mining and Drilling Access to Alaskan Wilderness

Sci & spaceBiden Administration Denies Mining and Drilling Access to Alaskan Wilderness


The Biden administration denied permission on Friday for an Alaska agency to build a 211-mile industrial road that would have cut through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve to reach copper and zinc deposits beneath untouched wilderness.

Separately, the administration said it planned to retain protections for 28 million acres of land scattered across Alaska that the Trump administration had tried to open up to mining and oil and gas drilling. The lands include unique habitat for three major caribou herds, migratory birds and Pacific salmon.

The pair of decisions from the Interior Department is part of a steady stream of environmental moves that President Biden has taken ahead of the November election to solidify his standing among conservationists, an important constituency. Climate activists have pressured the administration to act more aggressively to protect public lands from new oil and gas projects.

“Today, my administration is stopping a 211-mile road from carving up a pristine area that Alaska Native communities rely on, in addition to steps we are taking to maintain protections on 28 million acres in Alaska from mining and drilling,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “These natural wonders demand our protection.”

In blocking the road, known as the Ambler Access Project, the administration prioritized conservation and protections for tribal communities that depend on hunting and fishing in the area over mineral development that might enable more clean energy.

The proposed industrial road was considered essential to reach what is estimated to be a $7.5 billion copper deposit. Ambler Metals, the mining venture behind the project, has said the copper it seeks is critical to make wind turbines, photovoltaic cells and transmission lines needed for renewable energy.

Ambler Metals accused the Biden administration of rejecting the road based “not on the project, but national politics in an election year.” The company said it would “explore all legal, legislative and regulatory avenues to move it forward.”

The two-lane, all-season gravel road would have run through the Brooks Range foothills and the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, crossing 11 rivers and thousands of streams before it reached the site of a future mine. The area is home to some of the world’s most ecologically fragile wildlife. Because it would have cut through federal land, it required a permit from the Interior Department.

The Interior Department found that a road would disturb habitats, pollute spawning grounds for salmon and threaten the hunting and fishing traditions of more than 30 Alaska Native communities. The agency concluded that any version of an industrial road would “significantly and irrevocably” hurt the environment and tribal communities.

The Trump administration approved the permit for Ambler Road in 2020.

After Mr. Biden was elected, the Interior Department ordered a new analysis, saying the road’s environmental impact had not been adequately studied by the previous administration. In April, the department said it would recommend against any proposed version of the road.

“The Department of the Interior takes seriously our obligations to manage America’s public lands for the benefit of all people,” Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “In Alaska, that includes ensuring that we consider the impacts of proposed actions on Alaska Native and rural subsistence users.”

The other Interior Department decision affects what are known as D-1 lands in Alaska, which were withdrawn from development in 1971 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The Trump administration had intended to end protections for about 28 million acres of D-1 lands. Shortly after Mr. Biden took office, the Interior Department declared the Trump administration’s move legally flawed and launched a new environmental review.

That review found that revoking the protections was likely to harm subsistence hunting and fishing in as many as 117 communities, and could cause lasting harm to wildlife, vegetation and the frozen ground known as permafrost. The Interior Department recommended that the land retain federal protections.

Alaska tribal leaders praised the decisions.

“I’ve had the privilege of being raised in a very amazing place, I’m Neltsene, I come from the Bear clan,” Julie Roberts-Hyslop, the first chief of the Tanana Tribe said in a statement.

“Alaska is one of the most pristine places in this world, and I feel obligated to protect this for our future generations,” she added. “Our tribal nations rejoice in this positive news.”

Frank Thompson, chief of Evansville, an Alaska Native village at the foot of the Brooks Range, said his tribal council had been fighting the project for eight years. “Today is a happy day,” he said.

Alaska’s congressional delegation, which unanimously supports the road project, is expected to fight the decision.

Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, said last week he had added an amendment to an annual defense bill that would force the Interior Department to select a path for the project. He has called the Biden administration decision “lawless.”

Representative Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native to represent the state in Congress and Alaska’s only congressional Democrat, said in a statement that she supported Mr. Sullivan’s effort and believed there was “a path forward” for the Ambler Road project.



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