PacRim Coal, representing Asian coal buyers, is proposing to surface mine coal near Beluga. Known as the Chuitna Coal Project, it is currently under review by regulatory authorities. There are two reasons to oppose this project. The first regards the impact of coal removal on the Beluga area. The second regards our country’s antiquated energy policy.
First, the environmental impact statement and town hall meetings raise many questions: what effect will the water quality/volume released by mining have on spawning salmon? Many rely on salmon for subsistence or livelihood; dust from the 12-mile coal conveyor exposed to the Cook Inlet winds would contaminate the surroundings and generate unhealthy, particulate laden air; how the new port and increased ship traffic might affect the threatened, possibly endangered, local Beluga whale population; and will harmful pollutants, like toxic mercury, be adequately removed if the coal is burned in local power plants?
All are valid concerns, yet PacRim’s response is to trust them with the details. However, we know “the devil is in the details.” The coal industry has a legacy of broken promises and environmental destruction. Will this be different? No one has provided technically sound answers to the contrary.
Second, our shortsighted national energy policy doesn’t address dependence on dirty fossil fuels and resource management. Our history is tainted with wholesale devastation pursuing cheap, “unlimited” resources: near extermination of wildlife, displacement of natives, deforestation from coast to coast, overfishing in our waters and oil spills, for example.
Many believe Alaska is huge and overflowing with resources; it’s big compared to Texas, but small compared to the shocking efficiency of automated resource extraction. I’ve seen habitat loss, pollution and generally declining health from poorly planned development in the Northeast. Do Alaskans want this?
Conspicuously absent is a genuine consideration of alternative, clean, renewable energy such as tidal, wind, geothermal, wave and small-scale hydro. Economic growth and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive. We can have jobs and a clean environment by developing alternative energy. Consensus is growing worldwide to slow global warming now using alternative energy/conservation to protect the world’s economies. Otherwise, the cost of neglecting it could create global financial instability. This coal project is a business-as-usual approach so a few can get rich by sending our resources overseas.
Thomas Friedman, author of “The World is Flat,” expresses concern that developing countries are eroding the technological advantage we once held. He suggests a crash program similar to the Apollo moon landing to make the U.S. energy-independent in 10 years using alternative energy/conservation.
The economic stimulus from this would rival anything seen in the 20th century. America can achieve this goal and reverse global warming. But we lack the political will.
Alaska is The Last Frontier and our last chance to do it right by the forward-looking pursuit of alternative energy, conservation and protection of our remaining natural resources. Wouldn’t it be great if Alaska could lead the country in this effort and persuade our politicians that it is time for change?
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