‘Wipe the slate clean’: Environmentalists sue Trump administration Ambler Road approval

Aerial view of Ambler and the Kobuk River in the summer. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service via UAF Gates of the Arctic Research Portal)
Aerial view of Ambler and the Kobuk River in the summer. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service via UAF Gates of the Arctic Research Portal)

Nine environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for approving the 211-mile Ambler Road project.

“The agencies don’t have enough information to be issuing these permits in the first place,” said Bridget Psarianos, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “And this environmental review process should never have even been allowed to move forward.”

On July 23rd, the Bureau of Land Management approved a route for the controversial project, a private-access gravel road that would extend from the Dalton Highway to the Ambler Mining District in Northwest Alaska, through Gates of the Arctic National Preserve.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Alaska Tuesday, plaintiffs wrote that federal agencies failed to comply with several acts — including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act — when pushing the project forward.

The nine plaintiffs in the case are the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Alaska Wildlife Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, the National Audubon Society, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and Winter Wildlands Alliance.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) has been pushing the project along with federal agencies for several years. The state agency is in charge of making investments and providing loans to various business interests across the state.

Psarianos says permits were issued for the project at different stages of the road’s design, and should be voided.

“We’re asking the court to completely vacate and set aside these permits and pretty much wipe the slate clean and send AIDEA and the agencies back to the drawing board,” Psarianos said.

Mining companies hope to use the road to access deposits of copper and other metals in the Ambler mining district, then to truck ore out. The road has drawn concerns from environmentalists and tribal governments over impacts to wetlands and subsistence hunting in the region.

In a brief email statement, AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik wrote that the state agency is aware of the lawsuit and “the matter is under review and consideration.”

This story has been updated.

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