'The Right Call': Biden Blocks Trump-Approved Mining Road Through Alaskan Wilderness

A river snakes back and forth near the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The Biden administration blocked the construction of a proposed 211-mile industrial road that would have run through the park, a significant wilderness area.

(Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

'The Right Call': Biden Blocks Trump-Approved Mining Road Through Alaskan Wilderness

The move is "a monumental step forward in the fight for Indigenous rights and environmental justice," a tribal leader said before the decision was final.

The Biden administration on Friday blocked the construction of an industrial road that would have opened up access for mining in the Alaskan wilderness, earning praise from campaigners who said the project threatened Indigenous livelihoods and local ecosystems.

The administration separately moved to protect millions of acres of Alaska land the Trump administration had opened up to development.

The Ambler Road, which would have been the first step in a copper and zinc mining project worth an estimated $7.5 billion, had been approved in the final weeks of the Trump administration, even though it ran through a national park and the foothills of the Brooks Range. Biden's Interior Department reassessed the road proposal and recommended cancellation after releasing a final environmental analysis in April, making Friday's announcement expected.

"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," President Joe Biden said in a statement. "These natural wonders demand our protection."

Alaska Native tribes and conservation groups had strongly opposed the road project, which would have crossed tribal lands, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, 11 rivers, and thousands of streams. They said it would impact Indigenous livelihoods by, for example, disturbing caribou migration and salmon spawning. The area is currently roadless.

Dan Ritzman, the Sierra Club's director of conservation, said in a statement that the Biden administration made "the right call."

"Those who would seek to revive this project should listen to the local communities along the proposed route of the road, who have time and time again made their voices clear in opposing this damaging project," Ritzman said.

Many Indigenous communities had banded together in strong opposition to the project in recent years, and they celebrated the administration's decision.

"This is a historic win for the Alaska Native community," Brian Ridley, chief of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, said in a statement in April, when the Interior Department issued its recommendation. "It reaffirms that our voices matter, that our knowledge is invaluable, and that our lands and animals deserve protection. The Biden administration's choice to reject the Ambler Road Project is a monumental step forward in the fight for Indigenous rights and environmental justice."

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency, had proposed the road project and is likely to challenge the Biden administration's ruling in court.

Alaska's congressional delegation lobbied hard for the project to go forth, and has not given up: this week, Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican, tried to revive the project through a defense bill amendment, arguing that it was a matter of national security.

Ambler Road proponents argue that the U.S. needs access to the minerals in the area, which could be used in wind turbines, photovoltaic cells, and transmission lines needed for a clean energy transition. Ambler Metals, a joint venture mining company that's spearheaded the project, has conducted exploratory work in the area and pushed these arguments. The company spent $370,000 on lobbying the Interior Department over two years, according toPolitico.

The proposed site for Ambler Road was several hundred miles south of Willow, an $8 billion ConocoPhillips oil drilling project in the Alaskan wilderness that did receive federal approval last year, angering environmentalists.

The Interior Department also on Friday formally recommended that 28 million acres of public land in Alaska maintain protection from development. The land has been protected since 1971 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act but the Trump administration—again in a move made in its final weeks—had sought to end the protection.

"This sweeping action [by the Trump administration] would have opened the 28 million acres to extractive development activities, such as mining and oil and gas drilling," an Interior Department statement said.

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