The Biden administration acknowledged there were legal errors with the subsistence and National Historical Preservation Act processes for the Ambler Road, but failed to acknowledge the full and long list of legal problems with the Interior Department’s approval process. The Biden administration also only agreed to suspend the right-of-way permits while fixing the limited number of errors it acknowledged, but refused to revoke the permits.
This means the applicant, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, can continue funding and working on the project with outside corporate mining interests.
“While we appreciate that Interior acknowledged the legal problems with the prior administration’s analysis of impacts to subsistence and cultural resources, it is hugely troubling that it ignored a number of fundamental legal violations, and is nevertheless allowing AIDEA to keep its permits,” said Suzanne Bostrom, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska in a press release. “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. This administration should be prioritizing the health of communities and the Arctic, not politics and profits for outside corporations.”
Interior essentially wants to try to correct select deficiencies in its review after the fact, as if putting a Band-Aid on a deep tissue problem. It also entirely ignores the numerous other legal issues raised by plaintiff groups, such as failing to follow laws meant to protect our lands, air and water.
Multiple lawsuits, many legal flaws
We took multiple agencies to court on behalf of 11 clients in 2020, charging Interior agencies and the Corps of Engineers with violating the law when approving the Ambler project based on an inaccurate and inadequate environmental review.
A separate lawsuit filed by five Alaska Native villages and the Tanana Chiefs Conference also challenged a number of legal violations that occurred when agencies authorized the Ambler Road, including failing to meaningfully analyze the impacts to tribes and subsistence.
The Biden administration later requested multiple stays in the case, and now acknowledges that there were issues with its analysis of subsistence and cultural resource impacts while nonetheless asking the court to allow the applicant, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, to keep its permits for the project during the government’s reconsideration of some environmental impacts.
A statement issued by TCC thanked agencies for acknowledging significant legal defects in the decisions to approve the Ambler Road and urging the state of Alaska to drop the road proposal. “The 200+ mile Ambler road represents a fundamental threat to our people, our subsistence way of life and our cultural resources,” said Brian Ridley, TCC President. “We appreciate that the federal government recognized the flaws in the previous administration’s decisions to permit the road. We believe any objective review of the full impacts of this project, including the mining that it would facilitate, would demonstrate that constructing this road through the heart of our traditional lands would be a terrible idea. We urge the State of Alaska to drop the road proposal altogether.”
The court has not yet ruled on Interior’s request. Our fight to stop the Ambler Road is far from over.Trustees for Alaska is a homegrown nonprofit public interest environmental law firm established in 1974. We provide legal services to protect and defend public lands, waterways, wildlife, wild foods, clean air and water, and communities. We work for a variety of clients who bravely fight for their rights and natural resources. Our client list includes local and national conservation groups, Native villages, Alaska communities, citizen groups, statewide coalitions, hunting and fishing groups, and individual Alaskans. www.trustees.org