SEATTLE – Today the U.S. EPA announced that three Alaska Native Corporations were selected to receive $2.5 million in grant funding to assess and clean up legacy contamination on lands conveyed through the 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. This funding, championed by Senator Lisa Murkowski, is the first funding awarded from the $20 million appropriated by Congress this year to assist Alaska tribal entities with addressing contamination on ANCSA lands that were contaminated at the time of conveyance
The funding selections were announced by EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan and Senator Murkowski in Fairbanks, Alaska during the fourth leg of the Administrator’s Journey to Justice through Alaska to spotlight environmental justice concerns of Alaska Native tribes and discuss how EPA can support community solutions with unprecedented federal resources from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.
“One of the most important components of our Journey to Justice tour is the work to match federal resources to the community solutions we’ve seen on the ground. That’s why we’re excited to deploy these funds and help Alaska Native communities clean up the legacy contamination left behind on conveyed lands,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “Thanks to Senator Murkowski’s leadership, we will work together with our federal, state, tribal and local partners, to invest in America and help many more Alaska Native communities address the long-standing health and economic burdens on their communities from this contamination.”
“It is a stain on the federal government that contaminated lands were transferred to Alaska natives as part of the commitment under ANCSA,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “The contaminants that remain on these lands remain a threat to Alaskans. It has long been a priority of mine to address this environmental injustice. As a senior appropriator, I created this new program to direct funds to assess and clean up these lands after years of inaction from the federal agencies.
“Now, the Ounalashka, Tyonek Native, and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporations have received the first grants from this new program to begin the cleanup process. Today’s announcement is just the start of promising news for tribal entities around the state, who are rightfully owed lands that are safe to use. I look forward to additional announcements from EPA in the near future that will support further efforts to improve the health and safety of Alaska communities.”
Three Alaska Native Corporations were selected in this initial round of funding from EPA’s Contaminated ANCSA Lands Program:
Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation has been selected to receive $582,345 from EPA’s Contaminated ANCSA Lands Program. Grant funds will be used to assess lands impacted by a fuel spill and conduct lead and asbestos testing and abatement at the former Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Utqiaġvik.
“Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation is thrilled and honored to be one of the first organizations to be selected for the EPA’s project funding aimed at addressing contaminated ANCSA lands,” said Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation President/CEO Dr. Pearl Brower. “The important work that is to come from the EPA Contaminated ANCSA Land Assistance Agreements resonates deeply with our core commitment to protecting our lands for future generations. It’s our heritage and legacy that we strive to preserve, and in this endeavor, every step forward signifies a victory for us all.”
Tyonek Native Corporation has been selected to receive $1 million from EPA’s Contaminated ANCSA Lands Program. Grant funds will be used to conduct an inventory, characterization and decommissioning of abandoned drums and cleanup of any remaining petroleum and other surface contaminants on the Iniskin Peninsula.
“We are pleased to be among the first grant recipients through this program enabling the cleanup of these conveyed contaminated sites,” said Tyonek Native Corporation CEO Stephen Peskosky. “The Iniskin area is important to the Tyonek community and many adjacent ecosystems. We look forward to completion of this project and seeing our lands returned to their natural splendor.”
Ounalashka Corporation has been selected to receive $1 million from EPA’s Contaminated ANCSA Lands Program. Grant funds will be used to remove soils contaminated with PCBs and conduct an initial round of soil and groundwater sampling at a WWII-era warehouse in Dutch Harbor.
“The Ounalashka Corporation is pleased to be one of EPA’s first selections for contaminated ANCSA lands project funding,” said Ounalashka Corporation President Denise Rankin. “OC recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary and was entitled to 115,000 acres of land on Unalaska, Amaknak, and Sedanka Islands when we were established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. As with many other ANCSA lands, several sections of the land deeded to OC were contaminated lands from the actions of the WWII Aleutian Islands campaign. OC had struggled with the means to clean-up its lands and the costs only continue to increase.
“We are especially thankful to Senator Murkowski for holding the congressional field hearing in Unalaska bringing the issue to the forefront. We are also thankful to EPA for taking the lead on these clean-up efforts. Thanks to the ANCSA Contaminated lands grant, we will finally be able to clean the land around Building 551 of PCB contamination making for a healthier environment for our shareholders, tribal members, and the community. Thank you again EPA for your selection of OC and assistance with the award.”
In the fiscal year 2023 omnibus bill, Congress appropriated $20 million for EPA to establish and implement a grant program to assist Alaska tribal entities with addressing contamination on ANCSA lands that were contaminated at the time of conveyance. These grants can be used for assessment and remediation of the contaminated sites, and to support related community outreach.
Eligible tribal entities include Alaska Native Regional corporations, Alaska Native Village corporations, federally recognized tribes in Alaska, Alaska Native nonprofit organizations and associations, and inter-tribal consortia comprised of Alaskan tribal entities.
EPA expects to select additional projects for funding in late 2023 or in 2024. More information about contaminated ANCSA lands funding is available on EPA’s ANCSA program website.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was enacted in 1971 to settle aboriginal claims to public lands through the conveyance of 44 million acres of land to Alaska Native regional and village corporations and the transfer of one billion dollars from the state and federal governments as compensation for remaining claims.
Some of these lands were contaminated prior to conveyance (transfer) from a variety of activities such as fuel storage, power generation, waste handling practices, mining, and other activities. The contaminants on some of these lands— arsenic, asbestos, lead, mercury, pesticides, PCBs, and petroleum products—pose health concerns to Alaska Native communities, negatively impact subsistence resources, and hamper economic activity.
Since that time, EPA, Department of Defense, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, and others have been working to improve collaboration across the federal government and working with the State of Alaska and Alaska Native communities to leverage resources and expertise to accelerate investigation and cleanup of contaminated ANCSA lands.