Mine would hurt Utah ski resorts, protesters say

By By Veronica Pineda, Staff Writer

By Veronica Pineda, Staff Writer

U ski and snowboarding nuts might have something to be scared about8212;protesters say a proposed coal mine in Alaska would shorten Utah’s winters.

About 50 environmentalists and winter sports fans rallied at the Salt Lake City Public Library Square to tell the owner of Snowbird Ski Resort, Dick Bass, about their disapproval of the construction of what would be the largest coal mine in Alaska.

Bass partnered with Herbert Hunt, a leader in the oil industry, to form the PacRim Coal company and proposed the construction of the Chuitna coal mine, which, according to the company, would cover about eight square miles of undeveloped land and is estimated to produce as much as 12 million metric tons of coal annually for the next 25 years.

Protesters at Thursday’s rally said they were outraged about the fact that the coal would emit more than 54 billion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year, furthering climate change and diminishing Utah’s annual snowfall.

“Global warming is the main cause for our winters being shorter, and the coal industry makes up about 40 percent of global warming for us here on Earth,” said Forrest Searers, co-founder of Protect Our Winters, an organization aimed at reversing global warming by uniting advocates of winter sports. “In the future, the winters are just going to be shorter and shorter.”

During the past 50 years, studies have shown that temperatures in Alaska have increased an average of 4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the rally literature.

Although Bass’ wealth originally comes from his family’s oil business in Texas, many environmentalists have found his investment in the coal industry to be contradictory to his previous investment8212;Snowbird Ski Resort8212;a business fully dependent on long winters.

Snowbird, which most years has the longest ski season in the state8212;averaging close to 50 feet of snow per year according to its website8212;is a main draw to Utah for many U students.

“I came to Utah to go to college, mainly to get away and ski and go to school at the same time,” said Tim Talmage, a freshman in business. “They don’t have early season like here up in Maine. It’s just really nice to be out in the snow in September.”

The Freeskier Society, a student-organized ski club that offers discount ski passes, has sold 240 Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort passes to U students.

The Utah protesters aren’t alone in their opposition to the mine. Alaskan residents living close to the proposed construction site are against the plans as well.

“There’s a reason why I live in Alaska8212;the long winters,” said Emily Fehrenbacher, a resident of Anchorage and member of the Sierra Club. “I love it.”

Fehrenbacher said that for the past two years, she has witnessed the progress that PacRim Coal made in obtaining permits for the mine, only 45 miles away from her home.

PacRim is in the process of applying for various permits, a period that is expected to take two years for the Alaskan government to either issue or decline.

“There’s no guarantee on the project,” said Dan Graham, a project manager for PacRim. “It’s far from a sure thing.”

If the proposal is accepted, PacRim predicts that the operation will produce 300 to 350 jobs, and about $350 million in royalties to Alaska during the mine’s lifespan of 25 years.

Bass could not be reached for comment.

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