Today we sued the Trump administration to challenge its illegal approval of the proposed Ambler road. The 211-mile state-subsidized industrial gravel road to benefit private mining companies would destroy and pollute Arctic land and water, further degrade permafrost, and harm the health of wildlife and people across a broad range of the southern Brooks Range.
The road would cut through federal public lands in Gates of the Arctic National Preserve, slice through one of the longest migration paths in the world for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, cross nearly 3,000 rivers and streams, dam up tundra wetlands across the Brooks Range foothills, and stir up naturally occurring asbestos that would end up in the air and water.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority leads the project and plans to build the road to open up the region to hard rock mining for gold, copper, and other metals.
Local communities have opposed the road, which would fragment caribou habitat, and diminish food security, water and air quality, and their ability to safely practice hunting, fishing and traditional activities.
Decision-making via Magic 8-Ball
The lawsuit charges the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and Army Corps of Engineers with failing to comply with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act and other federal laws and regulations by making final decisions based on a deeply flawed and inadequate environmental review. The suit also names the U.S Coast Guard as a defendant as the agency has permitting authority over the numerous bridges needed for the project.
These agencies approved the Ambler Road without knowing key information about the project, such as the exact location of the proposed route. The information gaps in the environmental review are so massive that our lead attorney likened the agencies’ approval of the road to “making a decision by shaking a Magic 8-Ball.”
Boondoggle in a time of COVID
AIDEA—as the permit applicant and a public corporation of the State of Alaska—has already dumped millions into the project, and used the pandemic as cover to call an emergency meeting in March to tee up another $35 million to the project.
AIDEA has publicly subsidized the road proposal while failing to provide information vital to knowing how it will impact the region. It has no agreements with mining companies for paying back its funding of the road. It also has no agreements with private landowners to cross their lands—a necessary piece of this project.
A road to ruin
AIDEA’s application failed to provide essential details about the project, such as how it will be constructed over a multi-phased period, where gravel mining will occur, or how it will be reclaimed and returned to its original state when no longer used by mining companies.
It also entirely avoided addressing how mining and its associated activities threaten air and water quality, and the health of fish, wildlife, and dozens of communities.
AIDEA intends to extract gravel along the route to build the road, even though this area is known to contain naturally occurring asbestos. Both the construction and use of the road could release asbestos into the air and water. The road would open the door for mining that causes acid rock drainage and other contamination in waterways essential to the health of wildlife and people.
We intend to stop this road to ruin from getting a toehold, and we are taking Trump to court to do it.