Another Dirty Business: Coal.

The bed of the Chuitna river is littered with several-ton lumps of coal. Paul Moinester/Alaskans First.

The bed of the Chuitna river is littered with several-ton lumps of coal. Paul Moinester/Alaskans First.

Oil is hardly the only threat to Indigenous people. Along with oil billionaires, there are many other people who don’t need another dollar to see them through 10 lifetimes who seek to not only destroy Indigenous land, but the very life of those people. This is going on all over the world, not just in uStates and Canada. The rapacious desire for Coal, oil, gold, and more is threatening Indigenous populations everywhere. Corporations destroy everywhere they set their sights, with no thought past the bottom currency. The Tyonek have been waging a fight against coal for a very long time. You can start with this search page at ICTMN, just for some background. Almost every tribe in uStates who have depended on salmon for their main source of food, and have done so for thousands of years, have either lost that, or are fighting against that loss. Everywhere, it’s either coal, or a state damming rivers in order to steal water, leaving one tribe after another resourceless. There’s a very long article at the Grist about the current fight the Tyonek in Alaska are facing. I’m just to include a small bit here, click over to read the whole thing.

Art Standifer is talking about the Chuitna mine project at a tribal council meeting in a log cabin in July. He’s wearing a shirt that says “World’s Greatest Papa.” There’s a gumball machine to his right, and he’s eating Pringles.

I want to take a moment, and point out a fine example of colonial thinking and implicit racism in the above. It must be pointed out that “oh, look – those Indians are using modern things, and eating modern stuff, but fighting for all that primitive traditional stuff!” If you happen to be a writer, and wish to cover indigenous issues, you might want to ask yourself why you think it’s ever so necessary to write something like that. You must be willing to confront your own colonial thinking and implicit biases. Yes, Indigenous people are a part of the world, just like everyone else. There’s more than a whiff of “eh, they could just assimilate if they really wanted to” there.

“What will we be left with?” he asks, his white mustache in contrast with his straight black hair. “The leftovers of their tailings, their coal dust? No salmon, no moose, no nothing.”

If approved, the Chuitna coal mine would be a leviathan. Standifer and the rest of the council painted the scene throughout the meeting: PacRim’s power shovels and dump trucks would trundle over the grasses, pulling down the shore pines and balsams, rolling them over the river’s watery bogs. The drills would dig into 14 miles of stream and send salmon fleeing one of two ways: upriver, back toward the spawning grounds where they were born, or downriver, toward the ocean where they spend their adult lives. One group will die, trapped upriver; the other will never make it back to reproduce.

Where the salmon once swam would sit an enormous coal mine, surrounded by an access road, a 10,000-foot elevated coal conveyor, an airstrip, a logistics center, and a brand new export terminal. The machines would burrow into the surface to reach a sparkling, black seam of ultra-low sulfur sub-bituminous coal — 300 million metric tons of it, to be exact. Layer by layer, the coal would tumble into trucks that would drive it to a conveyor belt to the sea. Some 500 workers in hard hats would gut the land like a salmon, and then float its innards 3,000 miles away to be burned in “countries in the Pacific Rim, Indonesia, India, and Chile,” according to PacRim’s website.

The first stage of the project is scheduled to last 25 years, but that wouldn’t be the end of it. The surrounding land, leased from the Alaska Mental Health Trust property, is expected to yield 1 billion metric tons of coal. PacRim owns a total of 20,571 acres of coal leases in the area — a swath that it could continue to mine decades into the future.

Tyonek is what’s known as a “closed tribe,” meaning outsiders cannot visit tribal property without signed consent from tribal leadership. But once a guest is invited onto the tribe’s land, that intimidating veneer slides right off. The residents are welcoming and friendly, though not overly eager to appease outsiders. The coastal village is pleasant and sleepy, with soft winds blowing down from the mountains, off the beach, and over the dusty roads. Members of the tribe meet at the tribal center, where women sit, share waffles, and chat about this year’s salmon run.

“Taking everything from the land is like taking the blood out of your vein,” says Janelle Baker, a member of the tribal council. She pulls up her sleeve and gestures to her wrist. “You can only take so much before it shuts down.”

PacRim has promised that the salmon run will be recreated decades from now, after the coal has been extracted. Mark Vinsel, executive administrator of the United Fishermen of Alaska, tells me that the project would “obliterate” the fishery, and that he is “not confident that it is possible” to restore the river after the damage is done.

In the near-pristine wild of Alaska, it’s not easy to dig something up and then put it back together, as Lance Trasky, a now-retired habitat biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, wrote in an email. “I am confident that the salmon habitat that would be mined in the proposed Chuitna coal lease area could not be restored to its former level of productivity after coal mining,” he says, adding that what PacRim is proposing has never been done before.

Another looming specter: The Chuitna region is one of many coal-rich sites in Alaska, and opening a mine there could open the floodgates for more down the line.

The full article is here.


  1. Lofty says

    Unmitigated stupidity, as always. Worldwide, coal prices are slumping and the morons want to flood the market with more coal at rock bottom prices. The same scenario is playing out in Australia where Indian coal giant Adani wants to open a monster mine in the outback of Australia and ship the coal to India. The problem is that India has huge stockpiles of its own coal it can’t get through and wants to become independent of imported coal. They are also aggressively pushing for solar power. The best case for Adani is that the Australian conservative government votes to donate some billions to Adani to build a new railway from the coal deposit to the coast, and the bosses get to skim off most of it. And no-one seems to have noticed that “coal is good for humanity” Peabody Coal has gone bankrupt. The shit is basically worthless in a progressive world.

  2. stellatree says

    I want to take a moment, and point out a fine example of colonial thinking and implicit racism in the above.

    Thanks, I would not have noticed this even thought it’s obvious now that you mention it.

    I feel lucky and grateful that the West Oakland community was able to get our coal terminal project shut down. I worry for the Tyonek being such a small group of people, that they will be shoved aside for this nasty project/the almighty dollar. The potential effects on the coal market in Alaska are truly frightening for everyone if they build that terminal.

  3. Ice Swimmer says

    The probable (only one I can think of, but I’m no expert) business case for the Chuitna coal mining project is that the coal deposit contains easily mined high-quality coal close to the sea (low-sulphur coal was mentioned, so maybe it’s more marketable for power stations in densely populated areas and for iron/steelmaking and transportation is cheap by the sea) and the company may plan to bankrupt their financially weaker competitors by selling high-grade coal cheap.

    Still, this doesn’t help the Tyonek people and the salmon in the river will be extinct, if the company gets the permission.

  4. says


    The shit is basically worthless in a progressive world.

    Yes, and that’s mentioned more than once in the article. Coal’s time has come and gone, but that’s why there’s such an aggressive push, because the billionaires behind this know it’s their last chance to add a couple billion more to their pockets.

    The main person behind the Alaska plan is worth over 3 effing billion dollars. How much does one person need? You see this isht keep playing out all over, because at a certain point, it ceases to be about money. It’s the addiction to power that drives such destruction.


    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I did know about this, but I hadn’t blogged about it. I could blog about nothing but the constant encroachment on indigenous peoples around the world, and I’d be busy for years.

  5. canadiansteve says

    The mining company is trying to get something out of their asset before it’s totally worthless. They see that coal is on the way out and if they don’t develop this now they never will make a profit from it. They also will never repair the damage they do. Once the profit is extracted they will shut down the company and say there is no money to undo the damage done. They couldn’t repair it even if they tried anyway, there is no way to restore a destroyed salmon stream. The delicate balance between the salmon and the river that has evolved over eons can’t be recreated by human efforts.

    This project is truly disgusting.

  6. Jake Harban says

    PacRim has promised that the salmon run will be recreated decades from now, after the coal has been extracted.

    Yes, because that’s totally a thing you can do.

    Why don’t they just go all in and claim that any salmon who die will be resurrected as soon as the coal is gone?

  7. says

    Jake @ 6:

    Why don’t they just go all in and claim that any salmon who die will be resurrected as soon as the coal is gone?

    :Snort: They may as well, as their proposals have as much a chance of working as prayer does.

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