Decades After First GOP Attempts to Destroy Izembek Refuge Failed, Grijalva Asks Why Majority Still Pushing it at Today’s Hearing

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today questioned Republicans’ insistence on holding this morning’s hearing on Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) bill to build a habitat-destroying road through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Alaska decades after the failed idea was first proposed and years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) formally declared the idea not in the national interest. Izembek is the nation’s first designated Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and home to more than 200 species of wildlife.

Young’s bill is the latest move in a decades-long Republican attempt to build a road through Izembek to the settlement of King Cove. FWS has found multiple times, most recently in a 2013 environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act, that the costs of building the road and swapping associated Refuge land for state and private property heavily outweigh any potential benefits.

Building the road would cause irreparable damage to Izembek and would generate significant maintenance costs because of the rugged local terrain. Peter Mjos, former Eastern Aleutian Medical Director for the U.S. Public Health Service, said of the proposal that driving the proposed route during a winter storm would be “foolish beyond reason” and “would clearly jeopardize life.”[1]

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt highlighted in a 2014 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times how, despite current claims that the road is about saving human lives, former Sens. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) spent many years pushing the road proposal to boost the local seafood economy – dominated by Japanese-owned Peter Pan Seafoods – at taxpayer expense. Murkowski introduced legislation in 1997 allowing construction of a road through federally designated wilderness in a portion of Izembek, which drew a veto threat from President Bill Clinton and did not become law.

“This hearing is a caricature of a bad idea that won’t die,” Grijalva said today. “We’ve spent decades going over the fact that this road is expensive, unsafe and destructive to internationally important wildlife habitats. Our country has critically important environmental and infrastructure issues to address, and here we are still talking about a costly, destructive road through a refuge. I hope whatever infrastructure plan the Republicans come up with goes further than a single road through a federally protected wilderness area.”

[1] Peter O. Mjos, M.D., to Ms. Stephanie Brady, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 15 May 2012

Press Contact

Media Contact: Adam Sarvana

(202) 225-6065 or (202) 578-6626 mobile