ANCHORAGE, AK — Friday, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Alaska Department of Law responded to a press release by the Biden Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that appears hypocritical. The release indicates that federal agencies are leading the effort to accelerate cleanup of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) contaminated lands. This same administration is using taxpayer dollars, through the Department of Justice, Department of Interior, and Bureau of Land Management to thwart the State’s efforts in court to hold the U.S. government accountable.
“While the State appreciates EPA’s efforts to begin addressing the five-decade-long travesty of contaminated lands given in the settlement of Alaska’s indigenous peoples’ land claims, its press release today is hypocrisy at its finest,” said DEC Commissioner Jason Brune. “It is beyond absurd for the United States, as the responsible party, to claim that it is taking the lead on cleaning up contamination when it vigorously denies its ability and authority to do just that in court.”
In its Motion to Dismiss, the United States argued that “[t]he only thing Congress ‘memorialized’ was Interior’s obligation to submit reports to Congress, which it did.” According to the Department of Justice, Congress has in “[no] way mandated the Department or the BLM take [cleanup] action.”
“The Federal Government’s two-faced representations, denying any responsibility in the courts and now saying they are leading the effort, certainly does not inspire confidence,” said Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor. “Regardless, the State will continue to act, both at the sites and in court, to clean up Alaska Native lands from federal contamination.”
After exhausting all options, the State of Alaska filed a complaint in U.S. District Court on July 15, 2022 to compel the U.S. government to take responsibility for and address the conveyance of these contaminated sites under ANCSA. Despite the federal government’s inaction, DEC continues to work to advance cleanup of these contaminated lands.
In 1971, ANCSA was enacted to address claims by Native Americans that they rightfully owned lands claimed by the United States, conveying 44 million acres of land to regional and village corporations. Unfortunately, the selection and transfer of ownership process did not include screening for and addressing environmental contaminants. Almost 1,200 sites have been identified by the Bureau of Land Management as being contaminated at conveyance.
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