A road is seen near Coldfoot, Alaska. The move by the Interior Department calls for a new study of a proposal to build 200 miles of road through one of the nation's largest roadless areas in Alaska. File Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE
Feb. 23 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's administration says that it wants to do another study for plans to build an Alaska mining road that would cut a path through indigenous territory and one of the United States' largest roadless areas -- suspending a Trump-era proposal.
The Ambler Road would create more than 200 miles of road, but the plan has been controversial among Alaska politicians and environmentalists. It would cross traditional homelands of Alaska Native communities including the Koyukon, Tanana Athabascans and Inupiat peoples.
The road, approved in mid-2020, would run from the Dalton Highway near Fairbanks to the Ambler Mining District -- which has deposits of gold, copper and other valuable metals.
The Interior Department said on Tuesday that it will suspend the right of way for the road until the new assessment is done, contending that the prior study under former President Donald Trump had serious issues.
The move brought condemnation from Republican Alaskans in Congress, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young.
"America's lack of mineral security should be one of the Biden administration's highest priorities, but its incoherent policies are making the problem worse," Murkowski said in a statement.
"This decision will harm Alaska, including the Alaska Natives who support and will benefit from this project. Nor could it come at a worse time: How can the Biden administration possibly watch Russia leverage Europe on natural gas, and then decide to put the United States in the exact same position on minerals?"
The Tanana Chiefs Conference supported the decision and called on Alaska to drop the Ambler Road proposal altogether.
"The 200-plus mile Ambler road represents a fundamental threat to our people, our subsistence way of life and our cultural resources," Brian Ridley, president of the conference, said in a statement.
"We appreciate that the federal government recognized the flaws in the previous administration's decisions to permit the road. We believe any objective review of the full impacts of this project, including the mining that it would facilitate, would demonstrate that constructing this road through the heart of our traditional lands would be a terrible idea."
The environmental group Trustees for Alaska says that the department's move doesn't go far enough.
"We appreciate that Interior acknowledged the legal problems with the prior administration's analysis of impacts to subsistence and cultural resources, but it is hugely troubling that it ignored a number of fundamental legal violations," Suzanne Bostrom, senior staff attorney with Trustees for Alaska, said in a statement. "This project never should have been authorized in the first place."
Biden met with several government and industry officials on Tuesday and announced investments to increase U.S. production of key minerals, which he said will reduce reliance on foreign supply chains.