On July 5, Biden’s Interior Department blocked 28 million acres of federal land (D-1 lands) in the state of Alaska from any mining or oil and gas development, which removes an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania from resource development. The Biden administration also blocked a 211-mile gravel road, the Ambler Access Road, that would have connected mining districts in west-central Alaska to a highway that runs through the middle of the state. The mines are rich in copper and cobalt needed for the green energy transition. In 2020, President Donald Trump had approved the permit to build the road, but after Joe Biden was elected President, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a new analysis, arguing that the Trump-era studies had been inadequate.

The Biden administration has targeted Alaska’s resource development opportunities 65 times, affecting the state’s energy and economic future. The Biden administration has kowtowed to environmentalists to gain favor at the ballot box. This time, it is placing 28 million acres off-limits to responsible development, which empowers China, Russia and other enemies of the United States, and has blocked a gravel road used to reach areas for mineral development needed for Biden’s green energy transition. The Biden Administration has done everything environmental groups have requested in Alaska, except for the decision to allow development of the Willow Project in NPR-A, making some wonder if the Willow decision was an artificial controversy to mask later anti-energy and mineral actions such as those taken recently.

D-1 Lands Removal

“D-1” lands are about 50 million acres of federally managed public lands found in pockets across the state from Bristol Bay to the Brooks Range, Copper River watershed, and northern Southeast Alaska. D-1 lands, overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), were withdrawn from mineral entry under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971 to allow the Secretary of the Interior to determine whether those lands should remain withdrawn to protect the public interest. D-1 protections cover most of each BLM regional planning area, making them off-limit to extractive development.

Source: Audubon Alaska

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) into law, designating the largest swatch of protected areas in the United States.  Alaska now hosts 60 percent of the acreage in the National Park System, 88 percent of the acreage in the National Wildlife Refuge System, and the two largest National Forests.  The D-1 areas were left for later disposition, but most Alaskans believed they would become lands of multiple use, allowing them economic and recreational opportunities after the huge battle over ANILCA.  Until President Trump’s decision made in consultation with the State of Alaska, the lands remained in limbo.

The Trump administration, seeing the need for fossil fuel and mineral development, prepared, but did not finalize, five Public Land Orders to lift the D-1 protections for 28 million acres of BLM-managed lands within Bristol Bay, Bering Sea Western Interior, East Alaska, Kobuk Seward, and the Ring of Fire regions of Alaska for multiple uses. On August 16, 2022, however, Biden’s BLM initiated a process to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to determine the impact of lifting the D-1 protections on fish and wildlife habitat, subsistence opportunities, and Alaska communities.  On December 15, 2023, the BLM opened a 60-day comment period seeking input from the public. In its final environmental impact statement concerning Alaska’s D-1 lands, the BLM selected the “no action” alternative, which will prevent all future oil, gas and mining activities on 28 million acres spread across Alaska.  This action follows Biden’s closure of ANWR despite lease sales mandated by federal law and his foreclosure of future energy development in the Indiana-sized National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A}.

Ambler Access Road Project

The Ambler Access Road project had bipartisan support from Alaska’s congressional delegation and was mandated to be permitted by Congress. In December, Republican Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, along with the state’s Democratic Representative Mary Sattler Peltola, sent a letter to Haaland urging the analysis be conducted quickly and the road project re-approved. The Alaskan lawmakers argued that Alaska and the nation needed the jobs, revenues and minerals to which the road would allow access. Those minerals, the lawmakers explained, would also make America less dependent on foreign countries with poor records on human rights and environmental quality for oil and gas development. According to the delegation, Congress had mandated the road’s construction through the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), meaning that the Biden administration was overreaching its executive authority to deny the road’s right away.

China dominates global critical mineral supply chains, accounting for approximately 60 percent of world-wide production and 85 percent of processing capacity. Transitioning from fossil fuels, which is the goal of Biden’s climate mandates, would leave the U.S. dependent on China for energy, unless the U.S. develops its own mines and processing facilities. While there are some other sources of minerals in the world, such as the cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, human rights investigations have discovered widespread use of children in dangerous and toxic conditions. China also holds a heavy hand in the ownership of those mineral rich areas.

Ignoring guidance from Alaska’s Congressional delegation, in its formal record of decision, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) picked the “no action” alternative, which prohibits construction of the road on public lands. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority intends to pursue litigation against the decision.

Conclusion

The Biden administration is doing all it can to restrict new development of fossil fuel and mineral resources in the United States despite having a wealth of those resources here and particularly in Alaska. In doing so, the Biden administration is depriving Americans of their public wealth, increasing energy prices and spurring on inflation. It is also making the United States dependent on countries such as China, who has spent decades in placing itself as a forerunner in critical mineral development as it has little oil and gas resources to compete against the massive U.S. resource base.

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