Taking on Big Coal in Alaska
In the country's northernmost major city, organizers, activists, supporters, and coalition members gathered for Anchorage's first major anti-coal event.
Sierra Club Organizer Laura Comer of the Beyond Coal Alaska campaign said that with the help of four phone banks that made 1,100 calls, more than 130 people attended to discuss the growing problems the area is facing with Big Coal. With people learning the details of the coal threat, dozens of attendees indicated to organizers their eagerness to get more involved.
"At the event, we had people leave messages with their senators saying they are against Governor Parnell's push to streamline the permitting process" for a half-dozen strip-coal mine proposals that surround the city, she said.
In fact, 34 people in attendance called their senators right then and there, and several used tablets to email messages to legislators. The focus was on the proposed Chuitna coal strip-mine, an enormous project that would be Alaska's largest and one of the largest in the world. The first phase of the plan alone would remove 11 miles of salmon stream -- an area that's home to all five Alaskan salmon species.
"People are just learning about it," Comer said. "We're working on getting the awareness out there about how this sets a huge precedent. If we let this happen, it opens up all sorts of area at risk."
Within 40 miles of Anchorage are six proposed strip coal mines. Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, accounts for 40 percent of the state's population, "so we have an opportunity to build a huge constituency of people to speak out against these mines that threaten the area," she said.
Organizers have been working with the Alaskans First and the Chuitna Citizens Coalition to fight back. The Beyond Coal team is organizing house parties for later this summer and mobilizing for an expected public hearing on the proposed coal-strip mine Draft Environmental Impact Statement before the end of the year.
- Brian Foley