Chuitna Coal Strip Mine, Upper Cook Inlet,  Project Overview

Chuitna Coal Strip Mine, Upper Cook Inlet,
Project Overview

State also refuses to tell Alaskans when fish streams will be harmed

From Cook InletKeeper, April 16, 2013

ANCHORAGE, AK – Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commissioner Cora Campbell rejected common sense rules to protect wild Alaskan salmon runs, and refused to allow Alaskans to participate in decisions that harm salmon habitat. The decision highlights yet again the need for our federal agencies to play a more active role protecting Alaska’s magnificent salmon resources.

On March 13th, a group of local Alaskans – including Cook Inletkeeper, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, United Cook Inlet Drift Association and the Northern District Setnetters Association of Cook Inlet – filed a legal petition under the Alaska Administrative Procedures Act with ADFG to request clear rules that ban large scale coal strip mining through salmon habitat, and provide Alaskans with public notice when fish habitat permits – also known as “Title 16 permits” – are processed.

 Over the past month, over 250 Alaskans wrote to Commissioner Campbell asking her to adopt basic rules on habitat protection and public notice. On April 12, Commissioner Campbell rejected the petition in a brief letter opinion.

Most Alaskans cannot believe there’s no rule against completely mining through a wild salmon stream, and the petitioners’ proposed rule was designed to provide predictability to fishermen, consumers and industry to ensure no coal strip mining in wild salmon streams. The proposed rule also sought to make permits that impact salmon habitat visible to everyday Alaskans through public notice; ever since the Parnell Administration helped kill the Alaska Coastal Management Program in 2012, Alaskans have not received public notice on salmon habitat impacts where they fish, work or recreate.

“Governor Parnell promised Alaskans he would “never trade one resource for another,” said Chuitna Citizens Coalition member Ron Burnett. “A ban on mining through salmon streams would put the future of Alaskans first, before the interests of Outside coal companies who want to dig up our salmon streams so they can sell coal to China.”

A central issue is the proposed Chuitna coal strip mine in Upper Cook Inlet, where PacRim Coal LLC is currently submitting permit applications to create Alaska’s largest coal strip mine. PacRim’s plan would set a historic precedent in Alaska as the first project in state history to remove miles of wild salmon streams from bank-to- bank, down hundreds of feet.

“The Parnell Administration is determined to strip mine our wild salmon streams; that’s bad public policy, a terrible precedent, and a sad legacy to leave for our kids,” said Cook Inlet commercial fisherman and Cook Inletkeeper Board member Rob Ernst. “Now we need our federal agencies to step in to protect Alaskans from our own government.”

Protecting salmon habitat is not only vital to salmon survival, it’s important for branding and marketing one of the state’s most valuable commodities. Alaska fishermen and processors routinely tout the sustainability of wild Alaska salmon, and Governor Parnell himself recently stated “sustainability is in our DNA.”

“Governor Parnell doesn’t understand that healthy wild salmon runs are our greatest sustainable natural resource and that sustainable fisheries require sensible habitat protections,” said Ernst. “Alaska can’t afford to discredit our sustainable salmon branding and marketing, and wreak havoc on the economic livelihood of our commercial fishermen.”

The public interest law firm Trustees for Alaska represented the Alaskan groups on the petition.

For more information:
Dennis Gann, Cook Inletkeeper: 907.868.1133
Ron Burnett, Chuitna Citizens Coalition: 907.230.0225