President Joe Biden’s administration backed away from a deal to allow a new road through a vast wildlife refuge in Alaska after Jimmy Carter urged officials to reject the construction in one of his last public acts before entering home hospice care.
Federal officials on Tuesday withdrew from the Donald Trump-era deal to carve a road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which was protected by a 1980 law signed by Carter that preserved the park and more than 100 million acres across the state.
The land swap would have paved the way for a road that linked King Cove, a town of less than 1,000 people, to a nearby all-weather airport at Cold Bay for easier access to Anchorage and other larger cities.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the agency will instead consider other land swaps that could provide more restricted road access to the area.
Some local leaders had clamored for the road since the 1970s to gain a quicker route to emergency medical care, while environmentalists worried carving a path through a section of the refuge would sully the pristine wilderness.
The policy reversal came after Carter took the surprising step last year of filing a legal brief that said a federal appeals court’s ruling that allowed the project to advance was “not only deeply mistaken, it’s dangerous.”
Carter told The New York Times at the time that the project would undermine the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the 1980 law he signed shortly after his defeat to Ronald Reagan that he said “may be the most significant domestic achievement of my political life.”
“Our great nation has never before or since preserved so much of America’s natural and cultural heritage on such a remarkable scale,” he told the news outlet.
The former president, who entered home hospice care last month, forged a closer relationship with Biden than many of his other successors in the White House. Biden disclosed at a fundraiser this week that Carter asked him to deliver his eulogy.
Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, a supporter of the road project, said the Biden administration caved to pressure from “radical Lower 48 environmental interests, not by Alaskans or the Alaska Native people who’ve lived in our state for thousands of years.”
The Atlanta-based Carter Center, founded by the former president to promote his priorities, thanked Haaland for vacating an agreement that “put this ecologically rich area at risk and threatened to undermine ANILCA as a powerful piece of conservation law.”
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