Coal Mining in Alaska: A Dirty Business
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A Dirty Business

Mining for coal is a damn dirty business. There are no two-ways about it. Coal is dirty. It’s dirty when it’s dug out of the ground. It’s dirty when it’s being transported. It’s dirty when it’s burned. The coal mining industry is responsible for destroying mountains back east. Here in Alaska,

Coal burning is about as dirty as it gets. Worldwide, coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of greenhouse gases, resulting in unprecedented changes in global climate. The life cycle of this dirty resource concludes with coal-ash, the toxic waste product from burning coal, which pollutes our waters.

R. Maddox Coal is Dirty snow pic

Photo by R. Maddox

From start to finish, coal causes a myriad of problems, from the severe and clear climate change impacts already occurring in Alaska, to the local impacts on communities that live near coal mines, to the subsistence way of life threatened by the permanent destruction of viable, healthy salmon runs. Coal’s impacts are widespread.

Trustees for Alaska’s attorneys use legal strategies to keep coal in the ground, out of the air and out of the water. To protect communities and salmon in Cook Inlet, we work tirelessly to keep salmon streams from being destroyed by the proposed Chuitna coal mine. We work to keep communities next to proposed coal mines healthy in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and we helped keep a coal-fired power plant from being built in the Mat-Su. We work to reduce coal dust blowing across Seward and into Resurrection Bay from the coal loading export facility and to prevent the expansion of infrastructure that would ship even more coal to Asia. We work to ensure that coal-fired power plants, like the Healy 2 plant, have the most stringent pollution controls required and the best control measures to reduce its pollution. And Trustees’ attorneys work to protect us all from the looming threats of climate change, through our efforts to keep the 4 trillion tons of coal in the Arctic off limits.

The proposed Chuitna coal mine could send 300 million tons of Alaska coal to Asian markets and produce over half a billion tons of greenhouse gases. That’s bad for the planet. When the then little-known proposed Chuitna coal mine applied for a water discharge permit in 2007, Trustees for Alaska rolled up our sleeves to fight the mine on behalf of our clients, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, whose homes are just downstream from the mine, and Cook Inletkeeper, a longtime protector of water quality and salmon habitat in the Cook Inlet watershed. Trustees for Alaska is using our legal muscle to make sure Alaska doesn’t trade healthy salmon for dirty coal. That is a trade that isn’t in anyone’s best interest. Seven years and we’re still fighting that proposed coal mine. We have yet to see the fully submitted applications, in large part because of our ongoing efforts to reveal the complete lack of science behind PacRim Coal’s claim that it can rebuild a salmon stream from whole cloth. In fact the science tells a very different story—there is no way to rebuild a salmon stream. Period.

Dr carol ann woody fish

Photo courtesy of Dr. Carol Ann Woody

Beginning in 2010, we’ve worked closely with a diverse coalition to stop the start-up of a coal mine at Wishbone Hill in the Matanuska Valley. With hundreds of residents living less than a mile from the mine, and hundreds more who hike, berry pick, and play in and around Wishbone Hill, it’s simply no place for a coal mine. We’ve exposed that the permits rely on decades-old information and don’t comply with our laws to protect people, air, and water. And for three years now, the company hasn’t been able to start mining because of our work.

The coal projects we work against have a common theme: they come with short-term gains for big industry and cause long-term problems for Alaskans and the resources they depend on. The projects are questionable economically with a seriously declining coal market, and they have drastic impacts that damage the environment—our air, our water, our wildlife.

The work goes on because some decision makers have no qualms about trading salmon, wetlands, wildlife and the Alaskan way of life for coal. Because the threats from coal are real and the consequences significant, Trustees works each and every day to keep Alaska’s coal and its dirty ways in the ground.


TL;DR Coal mining in Alaska is a damn dirty business. It’s threatening communities, the subsistence way of life and the integrity of our environment.