Court to revisit decision approving road through wildlife refuge after Carter opposition

An appeals court will revisit a decision that upheld the approval of a road that would run through a national wildlife refuge following the intervention of former President Jimmy Carter.

A majority of nonrecused judges with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered a rehearing of the case that allowed the building of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

The road would connect the small King Cove community to an airport that supporters say is important for emergency medical evacuation. Opponents say that the road puts the wildlife refuge’s lands, waters and animals at risk.

After a three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit upheld a Trump-era decision in support of the road, Carter weighed in, saying that the court “misinterpreted” an environmental law that he signed.

The original ruling stated that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) allowed the Interior Department to strike an appropriate balance between environmental interests and economic and social needs.

But Carter said that ANILCA’s language about balancing economic and social interests described what the law itself achieved, and did not allow for additional economic concerns to outweigh conservation.

He warned in a May court brief that the alleged misinterpretation could be applied to future decisions, and allow for future decisions that circumvent the law’s intent and harm the environment.

In response, Della Trumble, the head of the King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native corporation that supports the road, told the Anchorage Daily News that the continuation of the case was “frustrating and disheartening.”

Meanwhile, David Raskin, president of Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, in a statement, called the ruling the first step to undo the approval of an “unnecessary and destructive road.”

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