The mining newspaper for Alaska and Canada's North

Kudos are in order for Senator Murkowski

North of 60 Mining News - July 1, 2024

Shane Lasley for Data Mine North

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been a strong advocate for responsible resource development in Alaska.

Secretary of the Interior Haaland is fighting a Congressional Review deadline to ensure that the Ambler Road is blocked now.

For those who haven't been paying attention lately, Senator Murkowski has weighed in strongly on behalf of the Alaska mining industry several times in the past few months.

First, at a meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she used her time to sternly admonish Interior Secretary Haaland about the BLM's decision to block the Ambler Road application; and again, from the Senate floor, she delivered a 20-minute challenge to the Administration about the policy requiring the acquisition of critical minerals found in Alaska from foreign (not necessarily friendly) countries.

"Instead of pushing policies and agreements that will force us to import, the administration needs to approve U.S. projects," Sen. Murkowski said. "It is unacceptable for them to reject the Ambler Access Project, to close off millions of acres of Alaska, and to lock in our long-term dependence on China and Africa when we could be producing more minerals here at home."

On May 10, Murkowski joined her colleagues for a press conference calling out the Biden administration for its National Security Implications of the Biden Administration's Latest Sanctions restricting access to the Ambler Mining District in Alaska.

"We're fortunate to have several major mines in Alaska, from Red Dog to Usibelli to Greens Creek. Those projects support thousands of high-paying jobs, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues each year, and local community needs through philanthropy, scholarships, and more.

"[Alaska] has many promising projects on the horizon, which will provide more jobs and revenues, shore up our national security, and reduce our imports by providing domestic sources of antimony, chromium, cobalt, copper, gallium, germanium, gold, graphite, lead, lithium, nickel, palladium, platinum group elements, silver, tin, and zinc, among others.

"Alaska's mineral potential is off the charts. But what we need is for President Biden and his administration to realize that mining is not only a proud part of our past and present, but also an essential part of our future. Instead of pushing policies and agreements that will force us to import, the administration needs to approve U.S. projects.

"It is unacceptable for [the Department of the Interior] to reject the Ambler Access Project, to close off millions of acres of Alaska, and to lock-in our long-term dependence on China and Africa when we could be producing more minerals here at home," she said.

Secretary Haaland subsequently appeared at a hearing held by the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, where Murkowski is the Ranking Member, to testify about the Biden administration's budget request for DOI for Fiscal Year 2025.

At that time, Alaska's senior senator suggested she would seek to cut the Department of the Interior's budget, unless and until the Department stops targeting responsible resource development in Alaska and returns to following federal law and the balanced management it provides for the state's federal lands.

She said, "I see a Department ignoring the law with regard to Ambler, ... our land management plans ... and the prioritization of conservation above all else."

"Why [is Alaska] treated like one big National Park and Wildlife Refuge, instead of a state that has balanced the need for development and the desire for conservation? When one end of that bargain is lost, the whole thing is lost, and I don't think any of it can stand. It took decades to settle Alaska lands matters, but less than four years for this administration to turn it upside down.

"I can't sit here and talk about your budget request-all I can think is, if Interior is going to use its funding to make these types of decisions, then we need to find ways to cut your budget, until the Department gets the point, and returns to following the law and the balances reflected in it," the Alaska senior senator said.

Notwithstanding Senator Murkowski's stern admonition, on June 28, the BLM released its Record of Decision on the Ambler Road, denying the State a right-of-way across BLM lands, essentially killing the project for now.

Ironically, this determination occurred on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Ramundo, Case No. 22–451, decided June 28, 2024, which spectacularly reversed the so-called Chevron doctrine.

Chevron has stood for the principle that the respective regulatory agencies of the federal government are empowered to interpret their statutory mandate because they have the unique knowledge and expertise necessary to implement the will of Congressional enactments.

Reversal of Chevron has the potential of vitiating the administrative state, especially in cases such as the Ambler Road because, as Senator Murkowski pointed out, the mandate to the Secretary in ANILCA to allow a road across the Gates of the Artic "boot" is unequivocal.

Notably, Sen. Murkowski is, at the moment, the number six Republican in seniority in the Senate, where seniority, in terms of influence, counts. She will move up that ladder one or more positions depending upon the outcome of the election in November and may be heir to a more powerful kingpin position in the next Congress.

Perhaps that, coupled with the Loper decision, will facilitate her ability to persuade the Department of the Interior to follow the law.


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