It is the policy of the Department of the Interior to minimize the potential liability of the department and its bureaus by acquiring real property that is not contaminated, unless directed by Congress, court mandate, or as determined by the Secretary. Before any real property is acquired, the Anchorage Field Office (AFO) will conduct all appropriate inquiries into previous ownership and uses of the property consistent with good commercial or customary practices. This inquiry will ascertain the nature and extent of any potential liability resulting from hazardous substances or other environmental problems associated with such property.
This policy is designed to protect the BLM from being held liable for cleanup costs or damages by enabling the BLM to demonstrate due diligence and thus invoke the "innocent landowner defense," if necessary, at a later date.
The AFO conducts or oversees the conduct of Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) of all real property to be acquired or returned from withdrawal from public use. The AFO follows the standards in 40 CFR 312, ASTM 1527-05, and BLM Manual Handbook H-2000-1 for conduct of the ESAs. The AFO has conducted as many as 130 ESAs in a year. These ESAs are mostly for acquisition of land for reconveyance as Alaska Native allotments and Alaska Native veteran allotments, but also are for return of lands from withdrawal to military or civilian federal agencies.