Interior Defiantly Rejects Industrial Road Through Pristine Alaskan Wilderness

Interior Defiantly Rejects Industrial Road Through Pristine Alaskan Wilderness


A mining corporation seeks approval to construct a 211-mile industrial road through the untamed Alaskan wilderness to access a substantial copper deposit. However, the Interior Department contends that such a project would adversely impact local wildlife and communities.


Expectedly, the Biden administration is poised to reject the proposal for the 211-mile industrial road traversing delicate Alaskan terrain to access the lucrative copper reserve. This decision marks a win for environmentalists, particularly in an election year when the president aims to underscore his commitment to climate leadership and conservation efforts.


Interior Defiantly Rejects Industrial Road Through Pristine Alaskan Wilderness

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Sources familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity due to lack of authorization, indicate that the Interior Department plans to announce a stance of “no action” regarding the federal land earmarked for the Ambler Access Project. A formal denial of the project is anticipated later this year.


The proposed road is deemed critical for accessing a potential $7.5 billion copper deposit situated beneath environmentally sensitive terrain. Currently, no mining operations exist in the area, and no permit applications have been submitted to the government; thus, the road represents the initial phase of development.


Interior Defiantly Rejects Industrial Road Through Pristine Alaskan Wilderness

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The rejection of the industrial road would mark a significant triumph for opponents who have long argued that such a project would jeopardize local wildlife and the livelihoods of Alaska Native tribes dependent on hunting and fishing.


Last year, environmentalists, including many youthful climate activists, expressed outrage over President Biden’s approval of the Willow project—an $8 billion oil drilling initiative on pristine federal land in Alaska. Notably, the proposed road would be located several hundred miles south of the Willow project.


This decision by the Biden administration reflects its ongoing efforts to strike a balance between two sometimes conflicting objectives.


Mr. Biden is committed to advancing clean energy initiatives in the United States as part of the fight against climate change. Ambler Metals, the mining entity behind the proposed road, argues that the copper it aims to extract is vital for manufacturing wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, and transmission lines essential for renewable energy projects. However, the president is also dedicated to preserving environmentally sensitive areas, evidenced by his efforts to expand national monuments nationwide and restrict oil and gas drilling on public lands.


David Krause, serving as the interim executive director of the National Audubon Society’s Alaska office, emphasized the significance of safeguarding the wilderness surrounding the Ambler region, describing it as a “significant accomplishment.” He highlighted the area’s exceptional ecological integrity and functionality.


The Ambler project’s proposal entails constructing a $350 million two-lane gravel road, designed for year-round use, through the foothills of the Brooks Range and the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. This route would cross 11 rivers and numerous streams before reaching the intended mine site.


According to assessments by the Interior Department, constructing the road would disturb wildlife habitats, contaminate salmon spawning grounds, and endanger the traditional hunting and fishing practices of over 30 Alaska Native communities. Sources indicate that the agency’s final evaluation will likely conclude that any form of an industrial road would inflict significant and irreversible harm on the environment and tribal communities.


Julie Roberts-Hyslop, the former chief of the Tanana Tribe, expressed concerns about the adverse impact of the road on struggling caribou populations and fish habitats. She warned that the construction of such infrastructure would exacerbate existing challenges.


A spokeswoman for the Interior Department declined to provide further commentary on the matter.

Kaleb Froehlich, the managing director of Ambler Metals, expressed astonishment at the Interior Department’s decision to reject the project.


In response to the reported decision, Mr. Froehlich expressed strong opposition, asserting that it disregards the backing of local communities for the project. He emphasized the potential loss of jobs for Alaskans and crucial revenues for a region grappling with a lack of economic opportunities, which has led to youth emigration. Mr. Froehlich condemned the decision as both unlawful and politically driven, urging the government to reassess its stance.


The Ambler Road project, traversing federal land, necessitated a right of way permit from the Interior Department. This permit was granted by the Trump administration in 2020, citing the road’s potential to access significant copper and cobalt deposits.


Upon assuming office, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland initiated a fresh evaluation, citing inadequate environmental scrutiny of the road’s impact. In October, her agency released a draft review highlighting “significant deficiencies” in the Trump-era assessment.


Interior Defiantly Rejects Industrial Road Through Pristine Alaskan Wilderness

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For instance, the new review identified 66 communities potentially affected by the road, compared to the 27 identified previously. It underscored the reliance of many of these communities on local caribou and fish, expressing concerns that an industrial road would disrupt the migration patterns and survival rates of caribou already under threat due to climate change.


Additionally, the review pointed out that road construction could accelerate permafrost thawing, destabilizing ground that has been frozen for centuries. Thawing permafrost poses risks such as rockslides, floods, and harm to Indigenous communities. Moreover, it can release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.


The review highlighted that the ice-rich soils within the proposed corridors would warm and potentially thaw regardless of construction. However, it noted that construction would likely lead to amplified or accelerated thawing in specific areas.


Should the road not be constructed, the copper deposits would probably remain untouched. This anticipated decision is expected to trigger strong criticism from Alaska’s two Republican senators and its lone Democratic member of Congress, all of whom endorse the road project.


Alaska’s leaders argue that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 guaranteed a right of way across federal lands for the proposed Ambler Road.


The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state’s development bank, initiated the process of obtaining federal permits for road construction in 2015 and has allocated approximately $44.8 million towards the project. Ambler Metals has characterized the road as an “urgent” necessity to ensure a domestic mineral supply for national security and clean energy initiatives aimed at combating climate change.


The company has projected that the road and the associated mine would generate over 3,900 jobs in an area with high unemployment rates, resulting in more than $300 million in annual wages and contributing revenue to state and local governments.


However, tribes and environmental organizations have questioned these projections as overly optimistic. They argue that there are larger mineral reserves in less ecologically sensitive regions of the country.

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