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Wild Salmon vs. Coal: The Economic Damages of the Chuitna Coal Mine

Economic damages to Alaska’s fish, wildlife, scenery, recreation and tourism associated with the proposed Chuitna Coal Mine will exceed any benefits by a factor of three to six. This was the overall conclusion of a 2011 net public benefits analysis CSE conducted in collaboration with Cook Inletkeepers. The CSE report followed federal and state procedures for true cost accounting of the project and weighs the potential net revenues, jobs, and incomes generated by the project against damages to ecosystem services, air quality and climate.

In 2015, CSE updated that analysis by developing preliminary estimates of economic benefits associated with Chuitna Citizens Coaltion’s application to reserve water rights for instream flow in Middle Creek – the waterway that will be most impacted by the mine. If the instream flow reservation is granted, it is likely that the mine proposal will be dropped and lasting protection offered for wild salmon that inhabit Middle Creek and the Chuitna River. CSE’s valuation of Milddle Creek’s ecosystem services demonstrate that subsistence and sport fishing, recreation, and intact ecosystems generate between $55 million and $134 million in economic benefits each year. Both the 2011 and 2015 analyses are based on the best publicly available information released to date about the project, and have been submitted into the administrative record maintained by the Army Corp of Engineers and to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to provide a more complete perspective of the project’s economic impacts and benefits of the instream flow application than what is now being considered by federal and state decision makers.

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