Senate Protects Native Corps from Liability for Pre-Contaminated Lands
JUNEAU—The Alaska Senate unanimously passed a bill providing relief for Alaska Native Corporations from liability for damages and costs resulting from pre-contaminated lands conveyed to them through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).
“Alaska Native Corporations face potential legal exposure for contaminated lands transferred under ANCSA,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel), the bill’s sponsor. “SB 202 provides a tool to help remedy this injustice by relieving Alaska Native Corporations from liability.”
Signed into law in 1971, ANCSA set aside 44 million acres and directed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to convey the lands to village and regional Native corporations. When the conveyances began in the 1970s, the BLM was not required to disclose whether the lands were contaminated. Only during the 1980s did residents begin noticing a problem, as villages became aware of the inventory of their lands.
During the 1990s, concerns were officially raised over the issue. A 1998 U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) report to Congress on Hazardous Substance Contamination of ANSCA Lands confirmed the concerns, identifying more than 650 contaminated sites requiring remediation. These sites were shown to have been contaminated under the stewardship of the federal government prior to the transfer.
A 2016 BLM update to the DOI report to Congress has since acknowledged that the agency failed to adequately address the recommendations in the 1998 report. 537 sites still require remediation, 94 of which are not in a clean-up program; the BLM classifies the 94 sites as “orphan” sites. An additional 100 sites also require verification and may be added to the orphan sites list.
SB 202 is now on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.