Lawsuit threatened to force cleanup of ANCSA lands

State officials say they have issued 548 notices of intent to sue the Interior Department over failure to clean up contamination on lands transferred to Alaska Native corporations under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The variety of contaminants listed includes petroleum, heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and solvents, all of them toxic.

The intent to sue announcement was released Dec. 17, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the ANCSA legislation, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on Dec. 18, 1971.

Letters sent to President Joe Biden and the Interior Department on May 27 cited contamination on ANCSA lands that pose a continuing risk to human health and the environment, according to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Attorney General Treg Taylor and Commissioner Jason Brune of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Taylor said that a Bureau of Land Management investigation has confirmed that the contamination was present on the sites at the time they were conveyed.

“Federal and state law are both clear that federal agencies are responsible for the cleanup of these sites because they owned the property when the contamination occurred,” he said.

State officials contend that despite repeated direction from Congress since 1990 and persistent requests from the state that the Interior Department and BLM have yet to complete a site inventory, identify the types of contamination, or measure how far the pollution may have spread.