ANCHORAGE -

An Alaskan senator introduced a resolution in February that seeks to begin research on and production of a large coal power plant and electric grid, despite federal regulations.

Senator Pete Kelly introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 16 in February, citing the need for a state-run, independent power plant in cases of state emergency like war or natural disasters. Senator Kelly said in his sponsor statement that the plan would protect Alaskans from dramatic increases in energy costs that inevitably ensue following such occurrences, both in Alaska and elsewhere.

Opponents of the resolution cite EPA regulations that protect the environment from pollution created by similar power plants already in existence, along with the traumatic environmental impact the additional necessary mines for coal will inflict. Sue Mauger, Science Director for the Cook Inlet keeper, points to evidence that Alaska’s climate has been slowly changing for the warmer – something she says will only gain momentum with additional coal use in Alaska.

“The release of more carbon dioxide, which will occur with new coal development, will fast forward the timeline for the most drastic of climate change impacts,” said Mauger in a SCR 16 testimony piece. “For Alaskans, living in the state disproportionately impacted by climate change, coal is a loser.”

Those in support of the move, however, see it as a step in the right direction for Alaska’s self-sustainability. Written into the resolution is the belief held by all its sponsors that the federal government’s slow response to Alaska’s needs and the red tape involved in changing policy is hurting Alaskans, who face the highest rate for energy costs in the nation:

“Whereas many residents of the state are struggling to provide for their basic needs and federal actions consistently slow, impede, or stop the development of the energy resources of the state, and the United States Environmental Agency continues to disregard the science-based permitting process of the state.”

“Coal is always a player in the affordable energy equation,” said AMA executive director Deantha Crockett in a letter of support.

“It is the least expensive fuel used to generate electricity, more so than natural gas and other fuels. Fortunately, Alaska has an abundant supply of coal, holding around 50% of the nation’s coal resources, about 5.5 trillion tons. Not only is our coal supply of impressive quantity, it is also of impressive quality. Alaska’s coal deposits are generally highly valued due to their very low sulfur content, making it some of the cleanest burning coal found in the world. Alaskan clean coal can bring affordable energy to residents of this state, meanwhile maintaining the clean and healthy environment we hold today.”

Alaska currently has only one working coal mine in the entire state, the Usibelli coal mine in interior Alaska, which supplies the Healy coal-fired power station that is part of the Healy Clean Coal Project.

The full title of the resolution is “Requesting the Governor to investigate and report to the legislature regarding the development of a large coal power plant and associated electric grid to provide energy to residents of the state”. The bill has been referred to the House Finance Committee for review, and if advanced, will continue to the floor for open debate and possible changes.

“Fashions change, but if we fail to have this conversation today, we will have failed to keep this option open for future generations of Alaskans,” Kelly said. “This is that day, and we need to advance the conversation on coal today so it remains in our vernacular for tomorrow.”