Greens sue over Interior plans to build road through Alaska refuge

Greens sue over Interior plans to build road through Alaska refuge
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A coalition of nine environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for authorizing the exchange of wildlife refuge land to allow Alaska to build a road through a previously protected preserve.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Wilderness Society and other environment groups filed a joint lawsuit against the federal government Wednesday challenging the legality of selling the lands in King Cove, Alaska.

The groups claim the land exchange, which reverses former President Obama's decision on the matter, was an example of wheeling and dealing behind closed doors.

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“The Trump administration’s illegal backroom deal to force a road through Izembek is unconscionable. President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE and his administration plan to rip irreplaceable federal wildlands from public ownership to satisfy commercial interests," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. "We will not wait for the bulldozers to destroy Izembek’s wilderness wetlands and threaten the species that depend on them for survival."

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon Court rejects greens’ climate case against federal coal mining MORE advanced plans for the land transfer early last week. The transfer will allow the Alaskan community to build the road through designated wilderness wetlands in Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

The action was seen as ending a fight that has stretched on for more than three decades and become a top priority for Alaska Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiIcebreaking ships are not America’s top priority in the Arctic 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril MORE (R), who is chairwoman of the committees overseeing both Interior Department policies and its budget.

The gravel, one-lane road would cut through the refuge, connecting the remote community of King Cove to Cold Bay. Locals and Alaska leaders say it’s necessary to link King Cove to a large, all-weather airport, mostly for medical evacuations in poor weather.

But environmentalists are arguing there are alternatives that must be considered.

"The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that viable non-road alternatives exist to meet the community’s needs while protecting a globally important refuge and its wildlife," said Nicole Whittington-Evans, Wilderness Society regional director for Alaska. "Americans cannot stand by and allow their public lands to be plundered, and we’re going to court to block the land exchange and the boondoggle road project.”