AD Main Menu

Compass: Coal has a vital role to play in keeping Alaskans warm and prosperous

Evan R. Steinhauser

A recent opinion piece from Steve Haycox argued that the battles over mining projects in the Matanuska Coal Field are not fundamentally about Outside environmental interests trying to oppose development -- development that is mostly supported by local residents.

Haycox misled his readers. The fact is, anti-coal groups are largely funded by Outside money. The non-Alaska money that pours into our state for the purpose of snuffing out jobs and development is not obvious to the public because it is filtered through the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

ACF's most recent annual report discloses that they funded $1.4 million in anti-coal activities throughout Alaska, and at least $181,000 of that was earmarked specifically to stop coal developments in the Mat-Su.

But where does the ACF get its money? The nine largest donors identified on their latest annual report are 100 percent Outsiders. These are foundations and wealthy donors in San Francisco, Seattle and New York. Despite what Haycox wants you to believe, the classic narrative of Outside special interest groups bankrolling the green agenda to destroy jobs and opportunities in Alaska is just as true today as it was in years past.

The "coal is dirty" slogan has become a deep-seated idea in our culture that coal harms our environment. The environment is important to everyone, which makes this slogan very powerful. Human health, our quality of life and the future of the planet are connected to that slogan. When people hear that something is dirty, they want no part of it -- which is understandable. However, the overall environmental impact of coal and other fossil fuels is positive. Because of fossil fuels, humans are able to heat and cool our homes, refrigerate our food and medicine, provide healthy water supplies and safe, modern human waste sanitation services.

The key is that we figured out how to produce cheap, plentiful, reliable energy from coal and other fossil fuels to build a modern, technological world that is healthier and safer than ever. The term "clean coal" isn't just an empty slogan. It's scientifically true. Alaska's coal in particular is ultra-low in sulfur and lower in other elements measured as greenhouse gases, and it burns cleaner than coal mined elsewhere in the world. Alaska needs to use more coal in-state to provide reliable and affordable power, and we need to produce more coal for the export market to strengthen job and economic opportunities here while at the same time helping our international neighbors reduce their emissions.

Alaska's only operating coal mine, the Usibelli Coal Mine, has provided jobs and energy to Alaska since 1943. The mine supplies 100 percent of the in-state demand for coal, as well as roughly 600,000 tons of coal to customers in Chile, South Korea and Japan. Usibelli employs approximately 120 people and spends about $72 million annually on mine operations. UCM is hardly a "global mining consortium." However, even the companies operating in Alaska who are global still hire Alaskans, spend money with Alaska companies to support their operations, pay Alaska taxes and royalties, and supply payroll dollars in Alaska's economy, as opposed to Outside interests working to kill jobs and diminish our economy.

Coal is the world's fastest growing fuel and has been largely responsible for lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. The world is expected to increase consumption of coal by 25 percent by 2020.

Coal is a fuel of the future. Energy poverty is the world's No. 1 human and environmental crisis. It keeps people and societies down, cripples health and damages the environment. Access to energy is an essential path to modern living, longer lives and powerful economies. Half of the world's population lacks proper energy and as many as 1.2 billion of these are children. Even in developed nations, low-income families struggle with the high cost of energy, forcing them to choose between putting food on the table and paying energy bills. Coal is part of the solution, not the problem -- and we have a responsibility to ensure that solution is made available to all who can use it.

Deantha Crockett is executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, a membership-funded trade association that promotes responsible mineral development in Alaska.