Former President Carter files legal brief in fight over road development deal in Alaskan wildlife refuge he set aside as protected

Former President Jimmy Carter is deeply concerned about protecting the environment at all costs as well as his legacy as president of federal environmental conservation efforts.

The former president has now attached his name to a legal brief filed with a federal appeals court in regard to a proposed land swap and road development deal in Alaska on land that was formerly set aside as protected under his administration, Politico reported Tuesday.

Carter is urging the court to reconsider an earlier ruling that approved the proposed deal due to the dangers it would pose to a wildlife refuge as well as the precedent the decision sets for future proposed development deals involving federally protected areas.

Access road development deal in Alaskan wildlife refuge

At issue here, according to the Associated Press, is an ongoing legal challenge to a Trump-era land swap agreement between then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and residents of the King Cove community to build a gravel access road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in order to link the community with nearby Cold Bay and its all-weather airport in order to facilitate emergency medical transportation.

Environmentalist groups had sued to block that development deal and won at the district court level but a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in March had reversed that decision and given a go-ahead for the land swap to occur and the access road to be built.

Former President Carter has now involved himself in the case by way of an amicus brief that calls for an en banc review and reversal of the panel’s decision by the entire bench of the Ninth Circuit.

The land in question within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s archipelago is a small part of the much larger Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act signed by Carter in 1980 that set aside huge swathes of Alaskan land as protected national parks that were intended to strike a “careful and lasting balance” between conservation and development.

Carter calls for review of “dangerous” precedent set by court ruling

The Hill reported that former President Carter argued in his brief that the three-judge panel had “misinterpreted” the law in question and were “deeply mistaken” in approving the land swap deal that would be “dangerous” both to the specific wildlife refuge as well as the precedent the ruling set for future decisions involving protected land.

“The secretarial powers the decision recognized would apply equally to National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, as well as Wilderness Areas and other conservation lands, and to all manner of development and extractive activities, not just road building,” Carter wrote. “Congress’s landmark action — the culmination of years of study and struggle — to designate for permanent preservation specific unrivaled national interest lands would be negated.”

He took exception to the panel’s determination that the law’s mention of finding an “adequate” balance between social and economic needs meant it could approve the deal forged by then-Sec. Bernhardt and included an “appropriate balance” between environmental concerns and the needs of the King Cove community.

“When Congress characterized ANILCA as striking an ‘adequate’ balance between conservation and utilization,” Carter wrote, “it was not, as the panel majority’s decision assumed, licensing future Interior and Agriculture Secretaries to trade away lands with irreplaceable ecological and subsistence values for economic benefits.”

E&E News reported that Carter’s brief deemed the Ninth Circuit panel’s ruling to be “overbroad” and argued to the full court, “Unless reversed, it would open tens of millions of acres of public lands for adverse development.” He concluded, “I am asking the 9th Circuit to review the decision and to defend the unrivaled wilderness in the national public lands of Alaska.”

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