One of Alaska's major exports — coal — has been racking up record shipments over the past couple of years.
Coal developers buoyed by Asia's energy boom and soaring coal prices are contemplating even more expansion in Alaska.
Two new coal strip-mine proposals are under serious study in Southcentral Alaska. Also, the state's single coal producer, Healy-based Usibelli Coal Mine Inc., is weighing expansion.
The bigger of the proposed new mines, called the Chuitna project, would ratchet up the state's total coal exports from about 1 million tons per year to 12 million tons. Exporting coal from the mine, about 45 miles southwest of Anchorage, would require building a massive dock for ocean-going cargo ships on the west side of Cook Inlet.
Coal development plans are triggering an intense land-use debate in various parts of Southcentral, where some small communities are fearful about major industrial expansion, particularly mining.
Deep-seated opposition in Chickaloon, for example, persuaded a Canadian company to abandon its coal exploration leases on 230,000 acres several years ago.
The debate is still raging over the two pending coal projects, Chuitna and Wishbone Hill, a small mine that could reopen north of
Palmer. The proposed mines have aroused local concerns about increased industrial traffic, reduced air quality and potential risk to Southcentral's salmon runs due to pollution and loss of habitat.
Chuitna and Wishbone Hill opponents have asked the state to declare the two locations as unsuitable for mining. The state rejected the Wishbone Hill petition, but the Chuitna petition is still pending.
Both mines remain under study with no final development plans published yet.
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