Commissioner affirms decision on Chuitna lands unsuitable petition
(Anchorage, AK) – Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan has affirmed his 2011 decision to reject a 2010 petition seeking to designate state lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for coal mining was issued today.
The 2010 petition, filed by Trustees for Alaska on behalf of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inlet Keeper, alleged that the lands could not be reclaimed after mining and asked the state to ban surface coal mining operations on those lands. In late 2011, Sullivan agreed to reconsider his rejection of the petition, after the petitioners filed a request for reconsideration.
The Commissioner’s decision on reconsideration, issued today, was the culmination of a thorough review of new materials submitted by the petitioners, the administrative record, and state and federal laws and regulations.
“The decision on reconsideration does not allow a mining project to go forward. What it does is affirm our 2011 decision not to preemptively ban all surface coal mining on these lands before conducting a full environmental review,” said DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels.
“Any company seeking to develop a coal mining project in this watershed will need to meet the state’s stringent environmental standards and requirements. Any proposed activity with the potential to impact fish habitat and water quality will require extensive review and approval by the Alaska departments of Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation,” Fogels said.
The Commissioner’s decision affirmed his 2011 finding that the petition did not meet the statutory requirements for granting a petition because, in part, the evidence in the record is insufficient to conclude that reclamation is not technologically feasible. In fact, state and federal agencies determined that reclamation was feasible under a previous coal project proposal in the watershed.
The majority of the landowners in the Chuitna watershed – in particular, the Alaska Mental Health Trust – acquired the lands due to their significant coal resources. If a mine is approved and developed on Trust lands, royalties from coal production will support the Trust’s work on behalf of Alaskans with mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance abuse disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and other brain illnesses and injuries.