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Interior seeks to suspend Alaska mine road decision

February 23, 2022 GMT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Interior Department has asked a court to let the agency suspend the right-of-way decision for a mine road during a review.

Officials filed the request Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for Alaska, seeking to fix what it called “significant deficiencies,” the department said in a statement. They want a review to “reconsider the analyses related to National Environmental Policy Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.”

During the review, the road’s right-of-way would be suspended, the agency said.

The 211-mile road to the Ambler Mining District in northwest Alaska would cross the Koyukon, Tanana Athabascans and Iñupiat native lands, the department said in a statement. It would also cross Bureau of Land Management land as well as parts of Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.

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U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan as well as Rep. Don Young, all Republicans, condemned the move under the administration of President Joe Biden.

“This decision will harm Alaska, including the Alaska Natives who support and will benefit from this project,” Murkowski said.

GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy also criticized the suspension request, saying it ignores extensive environmental studies.

“You would think President Biden would want to improve access to American sources of copper and other strategic minerals that are needed in our combined efforts to increase renewables,” Dunleavy said in a statement.

But the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of the 42 villages of Interior Alaska, voiced support for the move, and urged the state to drop the project.

“The 200+ mile Ambler road represents a fundamental threat to our people, our subsistence way of life and our cultural resources,” Brian Ridley, the conference’s president, said in a statement.

Environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska has sued over the project, and said in a statement that the government should throw out the permits entirely. The nonprofit group represents Native villages as well as hunting and fishing groups, among others.

“This project never should have been authorized in the first place, and the agencies can’t fix their broken analysis by papering over their mistakes after the fact,” said Suzanne Bostrom, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska. “This administration should be prioritizing the health of communities and the Arctic, not politics and profits for outside corporations.”