Carter, 97, Steps Into Fray Over Road Through Alaska Refuge Former President Jimmy Carter (John Amis/AP Photo)
By Brian Freeman | Wednesday, 25 May 2022 09:38 AM
Former President Jimmy Carter has gotten involved in a decades-long dispute over a proposed road that would connect an isolated Alaskan community to an airport by cutting through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
A recent federal appeals court ruling that upheld a land deal reached during the Trump administration would finally allow the project to move forward, as it agrees with King Cove residents that the road is needed to ensure that villagers can get emergency medical care.
But conservation groups have appealed to have a larger panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case, arguing that more is at risk than just the refuge, which contains 300,000 acres of unique habitat for migratory waterfowl, bears, and other animals.
The conservation groups contend that the ruling renders almost meaningless a landmark federal law that protected the refuge and 100 million more acres of public lands in the state, and that, if the ruling is permitted to stand, future secretaries of the interior could much more easily carve up those lands.
They also argue that there are better alternatives for King Cove residents to get emergency medical care, such as improved helicopter service or a ferry, that would not harm the wildlife refuge.
Carter, who is 97 years old and ended his term in the White House 41 years ago, submitted a legal filing earlier this month to back the appeal, a rare motion by a former president. Carter wrote that the earlier ruling by a three-judge panel “is not only deeply mistaken, it’s dangerous.”
He noted that he has expertise, and a vested interest, in the subject, because, as president, he advocated for and signed the law in question, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, known as ANILCA, in 1980, The New York Times reported.
When Congress passed ANILCA, Carter wrote in the legal brief, it designated lands for two purposes: conservation, and subsistence use by rural residents, and the law did not give the secretary of interior discretion to consider economic and social benefits.
The former president also said that ANILCA was significant beyond the protections it provided such lands, because passage of the law was due to a result of a consensus-building, bipartisan approach to governing.
“We brought together all stakeholders to the table, including Democrat and Republican congressional leaders,” Carter wrote. “We listened; we had respectful discussions; we sought thoughtful resolutions. We did not demonize, rather we achieved a practical, enduring solution. This is how the legislative process works for the best interests of our nation."