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EPA takes coordinating role in contaminated ANCSA land cleanup

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Theo Greenly
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KUCB
At the Aug. 23 U.S. Senate field hearing in Unalaska, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski requested the Bureau of Land Management to take the lead in coordinating the cleanup of contaminated lands in Alaska.

The Environmental Protection Agency has stepped up to take the lead in coordinating the cleanup of contaminated lands that were conveyed to Alaska Native communities, according to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

The federal government conveyed 44 million acres of land to Alaska Native communities as part of the 1971 Alaska Native Corporation Settlement Act, or ANCSA. But lots of that land was polluted, by things like mining and military operations — and different governmental agencies, committees and other organizations have been arguing over whose responsibility it is to clean it up for the past 50 years.

Murkowski co-chairs the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. She, and a group of state and federal officials, held an official U.S. Senate field hearing in Unalaska Aug. 23 to organize cleanup efforts of some of that polluted land.

She requested the Bureau of Land Management take up leadership, and said she expected “some kind of a determination from the Interior as to their commitment as a coordinating agency,” by the end of the week.

Instead, nearly three months later, Murkowski said the Environmental Protection Agency will take on that mantle.

“The EPA has really stepped into this leadership role,” Murkowski said. “The agency people that were [in Unalaska] saw very, very readily, how important this was going to be — not just in the Unalaska region, but really around the state.”

Murkowski originally asked that the BLM accept or decline the role within a week from the hearing, but she said the bureau had “not accepted that they should be the coordinating agency.”

Murkowski said it’s significant that the EPA is stepping up, because there needs to be an agency to coordinate the effort, but it doesn’t clear the next big hurdle: money.

“At the end of the day, we not only need the lead agency, but we need the resources to actually get the cleanup going,” Murkowski said.

Theo Greenly reports from the Aleutians as a Report for America corps member. He got his start in public radio at KCRW in Santa Monica, California, and has produced radio stories and podcasts for stations around the country.
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