A controversial road through the northwestern Alaskan wildlands took a key step towards completion this week. Two tribes suing the federal government over its plans to build Ambler Road have dropped out. After the federal government kicked right-of-way discussions back to local agencies, the Allakaket and Huslia Tribal Councils both voted to withdraw.
Other Alaskan tribes, including the influential Tanana Chiefs Conference, are still a part of the ongoing suit. The lawsuit alleges that the federal government illegally fast-tracked the project through environmental review processes. In order to access the valuable mineral deposits in northwestern Alaska, the plaintiffs say, the federal government ignored the potential impacts of building a road through National Preserve land. The road, which would run north of Fairbanks through the Brooks Range, could have major negative impacts on the region.
So, what are the arguments on either side of the lawsuit?
The Ambler Road project would create a lot of jobs.
The defendants in this lawsuit claim that the economic impacts of the new Ambler Road are worth the risks to the environment. There are a lot of very valuable deposits of minerals like copper and zinc in northwestern Alaska. Not only are these minerals valuable economically, they are valuable environmentally. These metals are often used in green technologies like electric cars that can help the U.S. get closer to net zero carbon emissions. That’s why the defendants, including the federal government and Ambler Metals, LLC, are arguing for the road’s construction. The benefits to the U.S. could be enormous.
However, it might cause irreparable environmental harm.
While green technologies are exciting, new, and potentially game-changing, they still require utilizing natural resources. And the cost of getting those natural resources may be too high to stomach. The tribal councils that are against the Ambler Road project agree that the road would disrupt aspects of their historical life that may be impossible to get back. Environmental groups have come out to support the lawsuit, too. They say that the road could destroy the habitat of the Western Alaska caribou herd.
Ultimately, the costs and benefits of the road depend on how you weigh these factors. Certainly, its economic benefits could be huge. However, is it worth risking the beautiful Alaskan wilderness to get them?