We as Alaskans are faced with another potential problem. We are not just faced with a man, or woman, or political machine. We are faced with a mine. A mine that has the real possibility of destroying not only an environment and habitat for the natural world, but also a culture.
We have faced this foe before. More than 18,000 people publicly came out to oppose Pebble Mine in 2008. The scary part is that this mine may actually have more downsides to it than Pebble did.
Pac-Rim Coal Company heads the project owned by Texas billionaires and headquartered in the industrial tax haven state of Delaware. They are the 1 percent, the group of elites who think that any development is good development. The CEO of Pac Rim, William Herbert Hunt, has a bad track record of shady business dealings. He was the perpetrator behind “Silver Thursday” in 1980, when he and his two brothers bought over 60 percent of the world’s silver and attempted to corner the silver market, forcing prices to drop from $50.35 to $10.80 an ounce. The crash rattled Wall Street and sent the Hunts into financial ruin.
But now instead of silver, he’s set his sights on the Chuitna River. The river is home to one of the largest and also lowest grade beds of coal remaining in the world. It’s located approximately 40 miles west of Anchorage, on the west side of the Cook Inlet. It is used by the villagers of Tyonek for their subsistence lifestyle, and is an important salmon spawning stream for the Cook Inlet fisheries.
The plans for the mine, according to Pac-Rim’s website, include digging up more than 14 miles of riverbed and essentially turning the bed into a large hole in the ground that would be up to 300 feet deep. Pac-Rim says they would fill the hole with dirt and “recreate the habitat” after removing the coal.
Although this is a nice thought, it’s simply not possible to do this. The river is a very complex ecosystem. It needs to have similar conditions under it to thrive, including layers of shale, gravel and dirt. Replacing an ecosystem with a monosystem would be environmentally unfit.
China is the largest polluter on earth and supplying them with more low grade coal would be devastating for our planet. When coal burns it releases carbon dioxide (co2) into the air. The current rate of co2 in the atmosphere is 401.57 parts per million (ppm), according to co2earth.com. The safe level agreed upon by climate scientists is 350 ppm. The co2 makes the planet warmer and will eventually raise the temperature to a point where it will be unable to return to safe levels.
Along with the environmental impact, the mine would be encroaching on Native land, held by the Tyonek Native Land Trust. It could destroy the subsistence lifestyle people in this region have enjoyed for countless years by way of ripping up the riverbed in which the fish spawn and return to every year.
Mine developers also have plans to create a port, right at the coast, that would allow them to begin shipping coal immediately on large transport boats across the Pacific. This would mean much more traffic and chances for accidents and gas/oil spills in Cook Inlet — something that is inherently dangerous to the fragile Cook Inlet fisheries that support the towns of Homer, Ninilchick, Kenai, Soldotna and more. It is estimated that more than 500,000 fish were caught in the upper and lower Cook Inlet fisheries this year (Fish and Game, 2016). We simply have too much riding on sustainable fisheries to throw it all away for a coal mine that would only provide jobs for 25 years.
Yes, the mine is only planned to operate for 25 years. The Pac-Rim informational website on the subject says: “The Chuitna Coal Project will create up to 500 direct jobs during construction; up to 350 direct, full-time, year-round jobs during the operating life of the mine; and up to an estimated 1,200 indirect jobs.”
There are many more jobs in the fishing industry in Cook Inlet, with more than 1,300 set and drift permits being granted in the 2016 season (Fish and Game, 2016). That’s not to mention all the lodges and guides that depend on clean water and fish. If we make good choices with mines, and other potential hazards, we can make these jobs last longer than 25 years.
“America has to keep the lights on somehow” is the response Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, gave when I asked him about the mine in June of 2016.
This is a ridiculous statement because none of the coal coming from the Chuitna Mine would actually be going toward U.S. markets. It’s bound for the Chinese shores, because China has less stringent environmental regulations and can legally burn the coal. In the United States, we have a specific grade of coal that we can legally burn. This is not being met by the coal located in the Chuitna riverbed.
This machine can be stopped. Currently it’s in a permitting process with the Army Corps of Engineers. Soon, there will be a public comment period, where both sides will be fighting for what they think is right. In the all too familiar Pebble Mine fight, more than 18,000 people either signed petitions or testified against it during the public comment period. This was enough to effectively shut the mine down.
Chuitna, however, is possibly even more backward in logic then the Pebble Mine, and I can only hope that people stand up against it when the time comes.
Roan Rediske is a 16-year-old Homer student who is passionate and involved in environmental activities around the state. He writes that he has been a part of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action for the last three years, a program under The Alaska Center, “which aims to spread the word about environmental dangers that may jeopardize our state’s long term natural sustainability.” He currently is home-
schooled and is a junior.