Alaska Delegation Reacts to DOI’s Months-Late Draft Analysis of Ambler Access Project

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA — U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) and Representative Mary Sattler Peltola (D-Alaska) today released the following statements after the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) finally released its long-delayed draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Ambler Access Project (AAP).

“This road is guaranteed under federal law and will facilitate access to crucial supplies of copper, cobalt, gallium, germanium, and other minerals that our nation currently imports from abroad. This is particularly important as China cuts off exports of gallium and germanium, cobalt is produced through modern-day slavery in the DRC, and some of our best analysts are forecasting shortages of copper within a decade,” said Senator Murkowski. “Given the clear terms of the law and the strategic importance of this project, you would expect the Biden administration to prioritize its approval with reasonable mitigation measures for subsistence. You would also expect them to recognize that Alaska has repeatedly demonstrated that subsistence rights can safely co-exist with road infrastructure. My team and I will review this document closely, but based on what Interior released today, it does not appear they have undertaken the serious, credible analysis that we expected and deserved.”

“Here we go again. The Biden administration is reversing yet another fully completed Environmental Impact Statement—approved by the previous administration—on a critical Alaska project,” said Senator Sullivan. “Our country is in the midst of one of the most dangerous periods since World War II. One of America’s greatest strengths over our adversaries is our energy and critical minerals. Remarkably, the Biden administration has sought to unilaterally disarm these strengths, including with today’s Ambler Road supplemental EIS, which sets up more hurdles to access one the biggest deposits of much-needed critical minerals in our country. Additionally, this supplemental EIS is almost certainly counter to ANILCA, which mandates that the Interior Secretary ‘shall’ grant an Ambler Road right-of-way not subject to judicial review. Finally, it is dishonest for the Biden administration to suggest that this project will become a public road, ignoring the fact that the application is for a private road, paid for with private funds. This is classic Biden administration: undermining American strengths in a very dangerous time, subverting the clear intent of federal law, and lying to Alaskans.”

“Projects in the Ambler mining district could create good-paying jobs for local communities while also developing an Alaska-based supply chain for the critical minerals our country needs to compete with China and create a cleaner energy grid,” said Rep. Peltola. “Those communities and local tribes must be adequately consulted. From my conversations with impacted communities, they want a private road, and I believe that a private road can find a balance between providing economic opportunities for the region while also protecting subsistence. I will continue to encourage the Interior Department to complete this process without further delays.”

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980 guarantees a right-of-way (ROW) across federal lands to provide access to the Ambler Mining District. Federal permitting for the AAP began in 2015 and included a rigorous environmental review and environmental and economic analysis (EEA). After holding 18 public meetings and considering over 3,000 unique public comments, in July 2020, the Secretaries of the Interior and Transportation signed a Record of Decision (ROD) selecting the Northern Alignment as the approved route for the road. That same month, after holding 21 public meetings and reviewing over 21,000 public comments, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) signed a joint ROD choosing Alternative A as the preferred alternative; subsequently BLM and National Park Service issued a 50-year ROW permit for the AAP.

In February 2022, DOI sought a voluntary court remand to conduct an SEIS for the AAP. President Biden held a roundtable on “Securing Critical Minerals for a Future Made in America” on the very same day—failing to recognize that the Ambler Mining District is one of the nation’s best options to produce them, but foreshadowing his administration’s incoherence on this issue. 

The court agreed to DOI’s remand request in May 2022, but placed conditions on it to ensure it would move forward expeditiously. In June 2023, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland testified to Congress that permitting would be completed by the end of the year, but just days later, the administration filed a court brief announcing a delay for a new ROD until mid-2024.

The draft SEIS is available here. DOI has set a 60-day public comment period from the date of the SEIS’ publication in the Federal Register, which is expected next week.