Alaskans may remember the recent efforts of a group convened by the Rasmuson Foundation to create their “New vision for EVOS” End the government’s Exxon Valdez Oil Disaster Recovery Program (EVOS), with all remaining funds from the government’s 1991 environmental settlement totaling billions (about $ 188 million at the time) across the Alaska. mainly given to organizations associated with members of the group community foundation. This proposal was found to be legally inadmissible by the US Department of Justice and the Alaska Department of Justice and was unanimously rejected by the EVOS Trustee Council last year, rightly.
But now some of these groups are back, again suggesting that over the next decade they will get most of the remaining funding direct. The board of trustees still has 162 million think tank “New Vision”.
That used to be a bad idea and it still is today. The restoration and recovery of the injured environment is far from complete.
For example, there are several critical habitats in the Spill region today that are susceptible to harmful industrial activities that threaten ecological recovery. The Board of Trustees must continue to eliminate such threats, as it has done with its remarkably successful habitat program over the past 30 years.
At the top of the council’s to-do list must be the purchase and final closure of the 40-million-ton coalfield on the Bering River, east of the Copper River Delta. For 25 years, local groups have proposed the acquisition and closure of the Bering River coalfield in order to protect this region as part of the EVOS restoration efforts. However, due to years of inactivity on the part of the Board of Trustees, this opportunity could now be missed entirely.
At its upcoming October 13th meeting (possibly the last, if all remaining funds are in place), the Board of Trustees has one last, best chance to act on the Bering River Protection Agreement.
The Bering River Region is one of the most spectacular, productive and wildest places in the world, an ecological treasure. It lies east of the Copper River Delta, at the foot of the Bering Glacier and the massive (1,900 square miles) Bagley Ice Field (America’s largest ice field in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park). The area of the planned mine is an important habitat for salmon, birds, brown bears, wolves, mountain goats and moose. The coast where the coal export would take place is rich in herrings, salmon, seals, sea lions, sea otters, clams, sea birds and whales. The area is the ancestral home of the Eyak, and this is where the first documented contact between Alaskan Natives and Europeans took place – the Bering Expedition landing on Kayak Island on July 20, 1741.
Over 100 years ago, the Bering River coalfield became one of the first major conservation controversies in the country, prompting then-President Teddy Roosevelt to protect the area from the Morgan / Guggenheim “Alaska Syndicate” planned coal extraction from the Chugach National Forest educated. In the 1970s, the area was selected by the Chugach Alaska Corporation (CAC), which then transferred the coal resources of the Bering River to the Korea Alaska Development Corporation (KADCO) in Seoul. In 2016, the surrounding CAC areas were protected in a groundbreaking carbon offsetting agreement, but the large KADCO coal field was not part of that agreement and therefore remains available for development.
Ironically, the only significant ecological threat to the region today is the same threat President Roosevelt feared 100 years ago – the potential for a giant coal mine on the Bering River / Carbon Mountain.
The mine plans include open pit mining and mining, a large coal transshipment facility, a tram and tram system south of Katalla and Controller Bay, a coal storage facility, a coal-fired power station, power lines, a dam to Kanak Island, a deep-sea port, and an access road across the Copper River Delta. In addition to the extensive habitat damage the mine would cause, any accidental discharge would flow west into the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound.
It is clearly in the national, state and local interest that this threat be permanently removed.
KADCO remains a willing seller for conservation, but due to continued inaction by the Board of Trustees, the company is now also marketing its Bering River facility to other coal companies for development. The opportunity to conclude a nature conservation agreement may not be available for long. In one final attempt, KADCO only offered its Bering River asset to government trustees earlier this month, the offer expiring October 15 and committed to considering a counter offer. A deal is still pending.
The public interest in this Bering River Protection Agreement is undeniable as it:
• supports and protects the region’s existing commercial fishing, subsistence, tourism and recreational economies;
• Offers the best opportunity to replace resources and resource services damaged by the 1989 oil spill by protecting unharmed but threatened resources;
• supports the interest of the Eyak Preservation Council and the Native Conservancy in the preservation of this ancestral homeland of the Eyak;
• Protect a spectacular, remote, wild region along the Alaskan coast in support of the state’s 30×30 conservation initiative;
• holds over 40 million tonnes of high quality coal in the ground which, if mined and burned, would emit over 120 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, and;
• Would be done at no taxpayer cost, entirely with funds available on the EVOS habitat account, with approximately $ 65 million remaining today.
Politically, that’s as good as it gets.
And for those who claim the mining project is not economical and would never be developed, this is a risk that many do not want to take. Although no one expects their home to burn down, most still buy fire insurance. Alaskans need similar insurance to keep the Bering River area permanently protected from any future coal mine risk. While coal should be dead as a future energy resource, the market price is now at record highs, so who knows what the future economics of it would be. Many also recall that other destructive industrial projects undertaken in Alaska were also inefficient, such as the clearing of Alaska’s coastal forests, which was facilitated by net operating loss tax sales.
With the revived attempt to disburse the remaining restoration funds at its October meeting, the Board of Trustees must seriously consider all proposals in the context of the highest and best interest of the degraded environment. At the very least, the council must raise and authorize sufficient funds to secure a protection treaty for the Bering River – perhaps $ 20 million – and commit to negotiating the deal with KADCO immediately, subject to a fair market valuation.
The Board of Trustees must continue to focus on environmental protection and recreation and must not miss this last best chance to protect the Bering River region.
Rick Steiner is founder of Oasis Earth in Anchorage, was marine professor at the University of Alaska at Cordova from 1983-1996, first suggested government / Exxon settlement and use of habitat protection funds, and has been involved in the restoration program since its inception .
The views expressed here are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a wide range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for review, send an email to commentary (at) adn.com. Submit submissions of less than 200 words to [email protected] or Click here to submit using any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and comments here.