State sues Interior Department in effort to open 28 million acres for Alaska ownership and development

The state of Alaska is suing U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and other federal officials over an Interior Department decision to delay the opening of millions of acres in Alaska to development.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Alaska’s U.S. District Court, says the federal government acted improperly when it postponed an act made in the last days of the Trump administration.

Under the former president, the Interior Department had planned to open up to 28 million acres of Alaska land to development. Some of the land could have been transferred to state or private ownership. In April, the Biden administration paused the move for two years, citing the need to review what it called “defects” in the Trump-era action involving National Environmental Policy Act requirements.

Alaska’s suit asks for the pause to be ended and for the Trump administration decision to move forward.

“This is a methodical effort by the Biden administration — more than just bureaucratic foot dragging — to frustrate ANILCA and the Statehood land entitlement and leave these lands locked up as de facto parks,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a written statement.

One of the major contentions in the lawsuit is that the pause violates the Alaska Statehood Act.

“The rights granted to the state of Alaska in the Statehood Act, and reflected in its constitution, cannot — and should not — be unilaterally diminished by any federal agency,” the suit says in part.


Under the Alaska Statehood Act and later federal laws, Alaska was entitled to pick up to 105 million acres of federal land in Alaska to be owned by the state. The state has already selected and owns about 100 million acres. Another 2 million acres is tentatively earmarked for the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, when it becomes available.

That leaves about 3 million acres to be transferred, consultant Dick Mylius told the Alaska Legislature earlier this year. That’s more than twice the size of the Municipality of Anchorage.

The state has already selected more than that figure, but it could reorder its priorities if additional land — such as that affected by the ongoing pause — becomes available.

The federal pause earlier this year appeared to affect a federal program that provides land to Alaska Native veterans of the Vietnam War and their descendants.

The Interior Department, however, said the pause would not interfere with that program. Alaska’s lawsuit contends it’s not clear under existing law how the federal government can permit one type of transfer but restrict others.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.