(Anchorage, AK) – The State of Alaska continues to hold the federal government accountable for failing to clean up contaminated lands transferred to Alaska Natives as part of the 1971 Alaska Claims Settlement Act. On Nov. 23, the State filed an amended complaint (207KB PDF) with U.S. District Court in Alaska after the federal defendants misconstrued congressional directives in a recent motion to dismiss (203KB PDF).
“The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Interior mistakenly assert that Alaska merely wants updated reports,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “What Alaska wants is for the United States to take actions that were mandated by Congress—namely, to clean up contaminated sites. Rarely is Congress so clear.”
For decades, the federal government has refused to address the contamination it foisted on Alaska Natives and the State. The amended complaint states “significant portions of over one thousand parcels (that make up over 17.6 million acres of the ANCSA Lands), given by the United States as consideration for the Alaska Natives’ rights taken, were contaminated with hazardous substances such as arsenic, asbestos, lead, mercury, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and/or other contaminants before they were transferred by the United States. In all, out of the 44 million acres the Alaska Natives were promised over fifty years ago, a significant number of the transferred property contains at least some areas that were and remain contaminated and unfit for economic development and/or traditional use.”
The suit was brought on behalf of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which is responsible for overseeing cleanup of contaminated sites in the state. “The Interior Department’s delay robs Alaskans of use of their lands and allows contamination to spread ” noted Commissioner Jason Brune. “Adding insult to injury, Deb Haaland, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, publicly insists that the U.S. is doing everything it can to right this injustice, yet in court briefs ignores the agency’s role in transferring contaminated lands to Alaska Natives, denies responsibility, and simply refuses to take prompt action,” Brune observed.
As of the date of this press release, and unless the Court orders otherwise, the Department of Interior will now have until December 12 to file a new motion to dismiss.