Biden plans to kill project that could end China’s dominance on minerals needed for green energy

The Ambler Access Road project would open up mining opportunities in Alaska that would supply critical minerals used in solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries. The Biden administration is expected to deny approval of the road, increasing our reliance on China.
Ambler Access Road

The Biden administration is expected this week to deny approval of an Alaskan road that would provide access to potential mining opportunities in a very remote region of the state.

The Ambler Access Road project is a proposed 211-mile gravel road that would connect a mining district in west-central Alaska to the Dalton Highway that runs through the middle of the state. The operations in the mining district could provide a steady domestic supply of copper, zinc, lead, gold, silver and cobalt, which are strategic elements needed for manufacturing wind turbines, solar panels, transmission lines, and electric vehicle batteries.

Former President Donald Trump had approved the permit to build the road in 2020, but after Biden was elected, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a new analysis, arguing that the Trump-era studies had been inadequate.

In a bipartisan effort, Alaska’s Congressional delegation supports the project. In December, Republican Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, along with the state’s Democratic Representative Mary Sattler Peltola, sent a letter to Haaland urging the analysis be conducted quickly and the road project re-approved.

The delegates noted in the letter that the Interior Department voluntarily pursued the review of the Trump administration’s environmental impact statement for the road on the same day Biden held a summit stressing the need for critical minerals.

“It is remarkable that during these dangerous times, the Biden Administration continues to focus on sanctioning Alaska and Alaskans while lifting sanctions on terrorist regimes like Iran,” Sullivan said in a statement emailed to Just The News.

Problematic sources

During his State of the Union Address in February, President Joe Biden called climate change “an existential threat,” and he has made a transition to wind, solar and EVs a cornerstone of his climate agenda.

China dominates global critical mineral supply chains, accounting for approximately 60% of world-wide production and 85% of processing capacity. Transitioning off of fossil fuels, which is the goal of Biden’s climate mandates, would leave the U.S. dependent on China for energy, unless the U.S. develops its own mines and processing facilities.  

There are some other sources of minerals in the world, such as the cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where human rights investigations discovered widespread use of children in dangerous and toxic conditions. New Jersey Republican Chris Smith introduced legislation this week to block cobalt extracted or processed using child labor from entering the U.S. market, Fox News reported,

While the president has been providing funding to develop domestic supplies of these minerals to grant the U.S. more independence from these problematic sources, he’s also sided with environmentalists’ objections to mines that would as a result choke off that supply.

In January, Biden issued a 20-year moratorium on 225,000 acres of federal land in northeastern Minnesota that had the potential for 180 million tons of ore, yielding nickel, copper and cobalt. In March 2023, the Biden administration banned access to nearly 514,000 acres of public lands that had potential mining opportunities. The Biden administration also blocked a gold and copper project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay known as Pebble Mine.

The denial of the Ambler Access Road project is only the latest in a string of decisions that appear at odds with the Biden administration’s climate agenda.

“The Ambler decision is lawless, but that’s par for the course. It will only increase our dependency on China for critical minerals. This is yet another major decision harming Alaskans, harming our national security, and appeasing foreign dictators and the President’s most radical, far-left supporters,” Sullivan said.

Gravest threat

These supporters, many of whom claim that climate change poses a serious threat, aggressively opposed the Ambler project.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) claims that climate change is “the gravest threat to life on Earth in all of human history.” Despite its stance on the threat climate change poses, Yet, CBD aggressively fights critical mineral mines in the U.S., such as a proposed lithium mine in Nevada. The group also sued the Trump administration in 2020 to stop the Ambler road from being built.

Rick Whitbeck, Alaska state director for Power The Future, told Just The News that the project enjoys bipartisan support and would deliver jobs to nearby communities, tax revenues to local state and federal governments, in addition to developing a domestic supply of needed minerals.

“Once again, the Biden Administration is proving that they view Alaska as less important than Africa, Russia or China. Why else would they continue to target our state and thwart responsible resource development?” Whitbeck said.

Other environmental groups opposed the project as well. Outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia, in its comments on the project’s draft environmental impact statement (EIS), said it would “jeopardize one of the last great intact ecosystems in the U.S.”

“We are experiencing a rapidly warming planet, with 2023 being the hottest year on record. Industry proponents claim the mines would procure minerals needed for electrification and national security, but the data does not show large enough deposits of minerals to meaningfully boost the green energy buildout,” the clothing maker said.
In its comments on the draft EIS, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks argued that the project would have “significant impacts across a broad region” that are “contrary to the public interest.”

Tough go

David Hammond, a mineral economist with decades of experience as a mining consultant, told Just The News that the road is about the only way the minerals in the area could be developed. Hammond has been a long-time consultant to NANA, a corporation owned by 15,000 Iñpiat Alaska Native peoples who live in the area. Hammond has been to the Ambler district, which is reached via a small unpaved airstrip.

To access the area from the west via Kotzebue Sound, he said, a road would have to be built up the Kobuk River, which would be a difficult option. “That's a tough go. That's got some bad terrain, and it's got wetlands,” he said. So without the road, the resource won’t be developed.

As far as the potential of the resource, he said that there are “highly prospective mineral deposits,” meaning that it's in the first phase of investigating what minerals are there.

“But I think they look promising,” Hammond said. One thing that might have generated so much opposition to the road project from environmentalists, Hammond said, may not be the road itself but that it may open up the area to a lot more development.

Native perspectives

NANA didn’t return requests for comment, but according to the company’s website, it doesn’t take a firm position for or against the project. It is continuing to evaluate its potential positive and negative impacts. NANA, according to the website, is committed to protecting and advancing the Iñpiat way of life, which requires balancing tradition with responsible economic development.

“Undeveloped resources in our region could maintain a sustainable economy, improve regional connectivity and lower the cost of living for generations into the future,” Nana states.

In an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News in December, Fred Sun, tribal president and chair of the Native Village of Shungnak, and Johnetta Hroner, tribal president of the Native Village of Kobuk — both members of NANA  — said that Alaskan Natives have multiple perspectives on the project. The tribal presidents, for their own perspective, expressed support for the road and criticized Haaland for ordering a new analysis, which further delayed it.

“We believe responsible development on and near these lands can provide benefits to our people. The project has the potential to provide jobs, allow road access to deliver fuel and other supplies which are currently flown in at great expense to our people, and fund essential government services in our extremely remote region of the Arctic,” they said.

Biden has set the nation on a course to get a large share of its electricity from wind and solar, and the Inflation Reduction Act could end up costing taxpayers as much as $1.2 trillion to achieve that goal. Unless domestic mines supply those minerals, much of that money will go to the Chinese or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The winners of this decision on the Ambler Access Road project will be the Chinese Communist Party and warlords in Africa, who use child and slave labor to enrich their regimes with no environmental oversight. When is enough enough?” Whitbeck said.