Interior Department rejects Ambler Road project in Alaska | Trending Viral hub


The Biden administration is expected to deny a mining company a permit to build a 211-mile industrial highway through Alaska’s fragile wilderness, handing a victory to environmentalists in an election year in which the president wants to underline his credentials as climate leader and conservationist.

The Interior Department intends to announce this week that “no action will be taken” on federal land where the highway known as the Ambler Access Project would be built, according to two people familiar with the decision who asked not to be identified. because they were not authorized to discuss the decision. A formal rejection of the project would occur later this year, they said.

The road was essential to reach what is estimated to be a $7.5 billion copper deposit buried beneath ecologically sensitive earth. There are currently no mines in the area and no permit applications have been submitted to the government; The path was a first step.

Blocking the industrial highway would be a huge victory for opponents who have argued for years that it would threaten wildlife and Alaska Native tribes that depend on hunting and fishing.

Environmentalists, including many young climate activists, they were enraged last year over President Biden’s decision to approve Willow, an 8 billion dollar oil drilling project on pristine federal lands in Alaska. The proposed highway would be several hundred miles south of the Willow project.

The move comes as the Biden administration attempts to strike a balance between two different and sometimes opposing goals.

Biden intends to boost clean energy in the United States to fight climate change. Ambler Metals, the mining company behind the proposed highway, has said the copper it seeks is critical to making wind turbines, photovoltaic cells and transmission lines needed for wind, solar and other renewable energy. But the president is also determined to conserve environmentally sensitive lands and has been expanding the footprint of national monuments across the country, while also blocking some public lands from oil and gas drilling.

David Krause, interim executive director of the National Audubon Society’s Alaska office, said protecting the wilderness around the Ambler area is a “big deal.”

“This is one of the most ecologically intact and functional landscapes on the planet,” Krause said.

As proposed, the Ambler project would consist of a $350 million, two-lane, all-season gravel road that would traverse the foothills of the Brooks Range and Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, crossing 11 rivers and thousands of streams before reaching the site of a future mine.

The Department of the Interior found that a highway would disrupt wildlife habitat, contaminate salmon spawning grounds and threaten the hunting and fishing traditions of more than 30 Alaska Native communities. In its final analysis, the agency is expected to say that any version of an industrial highway would “significantly and irrevocably” harm the environment and tribal communities, the two people said.

“The caribou are struggling, the fish are struggling,” Julie Roberts-Hyslop, the first chief of the Tanana tribe, said in an interview last year. A highway would exacerbate those problems, she said.

An Interior Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

Kaleb Froehlich, CEO of Ambler Metals, said the company was “surprised” the Interior Department denied the project.

“If true, this decision ignores local communities’ support for this project, while denying Alaskans jobs and critical income to a region where young people are forced to leave due to a lack of opportunity,” Froehlich said in a statement. He called it an “illegal and politically motivated decision” and urged the government to reconsider.

Because Ambler Road would cross federal lands, it required a right-of-way permit from the Department of the Interior. The Trump administration approved the permit in 2020, citing the highway’s potential to provide Access to important copper and cobalt deposits..

After Biden’s election, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a new analysis, saying the highway’s environmental impact had not been adequately studied. In October, her agency released a draft review that found “significant deficiencies” in the Trump-era study.

For example, the new review identified 66 communities that could be impacted along the road, compared to 27 identified by the Trump administration. The review found that many of those communities depend on caribou and local fish and that an industrial highway would harm caribou migration and survival rates that are already threatened by climate change.

He also found that highway construction could accelerate the thawing of permafrost, ground that has been frozen in some cases for hundreds or thousands of years. When permafrost melts, the ground can become unstable, causing rockfalls, flooding and damage to indigenous communities. Melting permafrost can also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

“Ice-rich soils in the proposed corridors would warm and potentially thaw with or without construction,” the review found. “However, with construction, soils in the specific area of ​​the site are expected to experience amplified or accelerated snowmelt,” the agency wrote.

Without the road, the copper deposits would likely remain untouched. The decision is expected to provoke an angry reaction from Alaska’s two U.S. senators, both Republicans, and its only member of Congress, a Democrat, who support the highway.

Alaska leaders maintain 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, applied for federal permits to build the highway in 2015 and approved about $44.8 million for the project. Ambler Metals has described the highway as an “urgent” need to provide domestic minerals for national security and clean energy to address climate change.

It has been estimated that the highway and an associated mine would create more than 3,900 jobs in an area of ​​high unemployment, while generating more than $300 million in annual wages, adding revenue to state and local coffers.

Tribes and environmental groups have questioned those assumptions as overly optimistic and said there are larger reservations in parts of the country that are less ecologically sensitive.


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