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June 25, 2014

Alaskans Banding Together Against Proposed Coal Mine

Ak salmon

The proposed Chuitna coal mine in Alaska is the largest climate fight you've never heard of, says Laura Comer of Alaska Beyond Coal.

If allowed, the mine would produce more carbon pollution than the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. And beyond that shocking statistic, it would also set another dangerous precedent.

"It would be the first mine ever allowed to mine through an active salmon stream," says Laura. "The Chuitna River is one of the few streams left in Alaska that is home to all five species of wild Pacific salmon."

The site for the mine is roughly 40 miles west of Anchorage, and is near a native Alaskan tribe that uses the river for subsistence.

Laura says that most Alaskans haven't heard of the plan because so much attention is paid to the fight over the Pebble gold and copper mine proposed for the Bristol Bay watershed.

"This project won't benefit Alaska: This whole Chuitna mine is solely for coal exports. It would have its own eight-mile-long conveyor belt to its own export facility on an island in the Cook Inlet -- home to the endangered Cook Inlet Beluga Whale," Laura says.

Nearly 100 petitions in one daySo Laura and Alaska Beyond Coal are busy educating residents about this destructive proposal. Laura just spent a week with a coalition partner and a Sierra Student Coalition volunteer camping and canvassing door-to-door in Juneau to get Alaskans to take action against the Chuitna mine. That trip alone garnered 226 petition signatures.

"Any Alaskan who knows about Chuitna adamantly opposes it," says Laura. "Salmon is our #1 resource and our #1 source of jobs. We'll be trading away those jobs, tourism, restaurant industry for coal mine jobs for people flown in from out of state. We're joining a local group called Alaskans First to visit fishing communities this summer to broaden the fight against the mine."

Laura says unfortunately state officials have been no help against the mine, but rather are encouraging its construction. From the Department of Fish and Game, to the Department of Natural Resources, to the Department of Environmental Conservation - all are giving the green light to it. "The state hopes that opening this would open up even more coal mines in these areas," Laura says.

Alaska Beyond Coal activists have helped defeat bills (written by the Governor!) that would help the mine get built by eliminating residents’ water rights, but the fight is far from over.
New bumper stickers on Juneau car
"This is a national issue," says Laura. "Think about the fishing, restaurant, and seafood jobs across the country that depend on Alaska's fish. And now we’re set to deliver the blow that could tip salmon populations from surviving to disappearing. The idea that we would trade that salmon for coal mining and exporting -- which will then be burned in Asia and return to us in the form of air pollution and mercury, which further harms our salmon -- is not the direction Alaska should be headed. "

Alaska Beyond Coal and coalition partners will hold a salmon day of action August 23rd to continue to raise awareness and fight the mine.

For now, you can help stop the Chuitna coal mine by taking action here.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

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