May 27, 2021 (Anchorage, AK) – Governor Dunleavy sent a letter to President Biden today demanding that the U.S. Departments of Interior, Defense, and Agriculture complete the legally required cleanup of over a thousand contaminated sites on State of Alaska and Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) lands. The contamination was already present at the time the lands were conveyed to the State and the Alaska Native Corporations.
“The contamination that the federal government left behind threatens the health of Alaskans and our environment and limits the use of lands that were intended to be resource for Alaska,” said Governor Mike Dunleavy. “Neither Alaska Native people nor Alaska residents should have expected that the federal government would transfer contaminated lands in fulfillment of its obligations under these laws.
In 1959 Alaska received 104 million acres of land from the federal government when it became a state under the Alaska Statehood Act. There are over 70 identified contaminated sites on lands conveyed by the federal government to the State of Alaska. Based off of current information, no federal agency has completed the necessary work for the State of Alaska owned sites.
“Federal and State law are both clear that federal agencies are responsible for the cleanup of these sites,” said Jason Brune, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “DEC staff have been doing our part inventorying the sites, but we don’t have the resources to do this work and it is a federal responsibility.”
In 1971, Alaska Natives agreed to relinquish their aboriginal land rights in exchange for 44 million acres of land from the federal government under ANCSA. They were not expecting to receive contaminated land that would require costly clean-up and threaten the health of nearby communities. Despite repeated direction from Congress since 1990, the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management have not completed a full site inventory, identified potentially responsible parties or initiated site characterization or cleanup of the contamination on these ANCSA lands.
While some of the 1,179 identified contaminated sites on ANCSA lands have been cleaned up, many have not, and pose a continuing risk to human health and the environment.
“We appreciate Governor Dunleavy moving this issue forward,” said Kim Reitmeier, Executive Director, ANCSA Regional Association. “It has been 50 years since ANCSA became law, and the cleanup of contaminated lands has yet to be addressed. We look forward to working with the Dunleavy and Biden administrations to rectify this situation.”
“We are grateful to Governor Dunleavy for his continued advocacy on behalf of our people,” said Hallie Bissett, Executive Director, Alaska Native Village Corporation Association. “Restoring and preserving Alaska’s lands benefits the wellbeing of our communities, our planet, and the integrity of the national judicial system. We are eager to move forward on this initiative with our federal and state agencies, and look forward to their response.”
“I look forward to the day when the federal government has cleaned up these contaminated sites allowing Alaskans, Alaska Native Corporations, and their shareholders to use their lands freely,” said Governor Dunleavy.