Alaska sues Department of Interior over ANCSA contaminated land

The US Army and Navy base on Adak Island is seen in 1943, during World War II, in this National Park Service photo. Adak is now home to dozens of contaminated sites, and the State of Alaska has filed a lawsuit seeking to have the federal government take responsibility for cleaning up the sites in Adak and all of Alaska. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service)

The state of Alaska has sued the US Department of the Interior in an attempt to hold the federal government accountable for identifying thousands of polluted sites on land given to Alaska Native corporations.

A complete inventory is a first step in the continued efforts of the state to hold the federal government responsible for cleaning up the sites.

In many cases, according to the state, pollution left behind by the U.S. military and other federal agencies has prevented development on land transferred from the federal government under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. .

The state filed its lawsuit July 15 in the U.S. District Court in Anchorage, with the state being represented by a large private firm, Kelley Drye & Warren.

In his complaintthe state argues that three previous acts of Congress — in 1990, 1995, and 2014 — require the Department of the Interior to take a comprehensive look at contaminated sites in Alaska and propose plans for their cleanup.

The lawsuit is asking a judge to issue an order requiring the department to conduct investigations and write cleanup plans.

Although the suit does not explicitly seek an order requiring the federal government to clean up the sites, the investigative process generally includes identifying a “potentially responsible party” who could be held responsible for the cleanup.

“The federal government has a moral and legal responsibility to look after these contaminated sites, which have already languished for far too long,” Jason Brune, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a statement. a letter 2021 to the Secretaries of Defence, Interior and Agriculture.

In a separate letter, Brune asked Interior Secretary Debra Haaland to lead the cleanup of known contaminated sites.

The Home Office responded later in 2021 with a letter saying in part that the “DOI does not have the legal authority to compel or effect the cleanup of lands that have been transferred out of federal ownership, nor to impose liability for contamination that is reported on such lands. “

After this exchange, the State threatened with a lawsuit in December 2021 and followed its filing this month.

The federal government has yet to formally respond to the lawsuit, which could take years to resolve.

Betty K. Park