Protecting Canyon Creek Watershed from Coal Mining

Climate disruption, public health, and Alaska’s clean water and air and abundant fish and wildlife are all at stake in the State of Alaska’s push to open its vast coal resources for development. Most recently, the state decided to open over 13,000 acres of roadless state lands to competitive coal leasing. Earthjustice is challenging the decision as unconstitutional and not in the best interests of the state.

Regional Office / Program

Case Overview

Alaska is rich in coal. It has as much as 5.5 trillion tons of coal, which amounts to over half of U.S. coal reserves and up to one-eighth of world’s coal resources. As U.S. coal exports to Asia have increased in recent years, interest in mining Alaska’s coal has surged. Coal extraction proposals are cropping up across the state threatening a legacy of ruined landscapes, polluted air and waters, destroyed fish and wildlife habitats, exacerbated climate change, and adverse health effects on humans.

One such proposal is underway in the Canyon Creek watershed near Cook Inlet in southcentral Alaska. In July 2013, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR) concluded that it is in the best interests of the state to hold a competitive coal lease sale in the area. The lease sale would open access to an estimated 257.9 million short tons of coal in an undeveloped watershed, which, among other things, provides spawning and rearing habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon. Coal from the Canyon Creek area would likely be transported to Asia via the export terminal proposed for the nearby Chuitna Coal mine or a proposed terminal at Port MacKenzie. It would require a major railroad extension and possibly a road in an area where currently the largest thoroughfare is the Iditarod National Historic Trail. ADNR determined that the coal lease sale is in the state’s best interests without seriously addressing the effects of climate change on a state already suffering twice the rate of warming as the rest of the country.

In July 2013, Earthjustice brought an administrative appeal of ADNR’s decision on behalf of a coalition of conservation groups, community organizations, and an Indian tribe. We are awaiting a decision.

Wild male and female red salmon in river before spawning in symmetric position.
The Canyon Creek watershed provides spawning and rearing habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon. (Vasik Olga / Shutterstock)

Case Updates

July 25, 2013 document

Canyon Creek Administrative Appeal