The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Biden spurns Senator Steven's legacy

North of 60 Mining News – April 26, 2024

Former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens.

No matter how the 2024 Presidential election may unfold, our Congressional delegation must resuscitate the Ambler Access Project.

On August 19, 1980, then-Senator Joseph Biden, along with 77 other Senators, cast a vote in support of HR 39, as amended, now known as the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

Senator Ted Stevens had invested nearly a decade of his life in bringing this vital piece of legislation to the Senate floor.

ANILCA's roots were in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971, which had also been shepherded to a resolution by Senator Stevens.

ANCSA, however, was a compromise. Its opponents were assuaged in part by the inclusion of section 17(d)(2), which directed the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw up to 80 million acres of land to be available for potential Congressional designation as National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Wild and Scenic Rivers, or National Forests.

While ANILCA was on President Carter's desk, he lost his bid for re-election. Out of fear that President-elect Reagan's administration would force a reconsideration of the ANILCA compromise, Carter signed the bill into law on December 2, 1980.

ANILCA was notable for its devastating impact on resource development in Alaska. Over 157 million acres were made off-limits and forever lost. For context, the entire State of California is only 105 million acres.

But ANILCA, like ANCSA before it, was also a compromise.

Specifically, ANILCA section 101(d) provides that "the designation and disposition of the public lands in Alaska pursuant to this Act are found to represent a proper balance between the reservation of national conservation system units and those public lands necessary and appropriate for more intensive use and disposition, and thus Congress believes that the need for future legislation designating new conservation system units, new national conservation areas, or new national recreation areas, has been obviated thereby."

This language is generally referred to as the "no more" clause and is as much the law today as it was 43 years ago.

Among the withdrawals contained in ANILCA was a large area on the south flank of the Brooks Range called the Gates of The Arctic National Park and Preserve.

Congress specifically recognized that "there is a need for access for surface transportation purposes across the Western (Kobuk River) unit of the Gates of the Arctic National Preserve (from the Ambler Mining District to the Alaska Pipeline Haul Road) and the Secretary shall permit such access in accordance with the provisions of this subsection."

It is impossible to believe that when then-Senator Biden endorsed this language, he thought there might be a loophole. There is none.

Further, the 96th Congress and President Carter were clear that the responsibility for compliance was on the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, not the Director of an Interior agency.

Nonetheless, on April 19, 2024, the Bureau of Land Management, in reviewing an Environmental Impact Statement for the construction of the so-called Ambler Access Project (AAP), selected the "no action" alternative in support of BLM's intended Record of Decision, effectively prohibiting the project.

The AAP is a proposed industrial access road connecting the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District along a right of way that is provided for in ANILCA. It initially received a favorable Joint Record of Decision (ROD) in August 2020 from the Department of the Interior, but under pressure from a lawsuit, the Department requested a voluntary remand in February 2022, necessitating the creation of a Supplemental EIS.

The ensuing EIS runs to twelve hundred pages plus appendices.

Using the EIS process as a barrier against the AAP is a willful and blatant disregard of the National Environmental Policy Act as well as ANILCA, both laws which Biden himself once embraced.

The very fact that this President would allow his henchmen to defy the will of a Congress of which he was a part of is simply outrageous.

The denial of resource developers the opportunity to access the vast resources known to exist in the Ambler area boggles the mind. Not only does America need the copper and cobalt that could be extracted, but it will also offer economic opportunities in the form of good-paying jobs to the local landlocked residents.

But in a larger sense in this case, it is also insensitive beyond cavil on Mr. Biden's part.

Those of us who were in the front row seats of the "d(2)" resistance during the late Seventies remember well that two years prior to the signing of ANILCA into law, there was a tremendous, monumental tragedy involving Senator Stevens and his party.

This occurred when the private Lear jet in which he was a passenger crashed at the Anchorage International Airport, killing the Senator's wife, two prominent Alaskans, Richard Sykes, who was the pilot, Clarence Cramer, and the copilot. Only Senator Stevens and one other passenger escaped with their lives.

Once more, we feel the lingchi blade.


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