Lawsuit Opens Door on Black Mesa 

Durango Telegraph
08 October 2010

A lawsuit is trying to shed daylight on suspicious practices at the nearby Black Mesa Coal Complex. Native American and conservation groups have sued the U.S. Department of the Interior for withholding records related to coal mining in northeast Arizona.

To date, the department’s Office of Surface Mining has refused to publicly release records on mining operations conducted at the site by Peabody, the largest coal mine operator in the world. Among other records, the plaintiffs are seeking a copy of a current, valid operating permit for mining.

“For decades, the Office of Surface Mining has quietly issued permits to Peabody in a way that has thwarted meaningful public involvement and community understanding of Peabody’s mine operations,” said Nikke Alex, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “The permitting actions have a direct and irreparable impact on our community. These records must be released to the public.”

Peabody runs the 40,000-acre Kayenta Mine and adjacent 18,000-acre Black Mesa Mine on Navajo Nation and Hopi tribal lands in northeastern Arizona. On April 9, the Black Mesa Water Coalition submitted a request for records related to the agency’s renewal of Peabody’s Kayenta Mine operating permit. However, OSM ended the public comment period two months later without ever releasing the requested records.

“These records should be readily available for public release by the agency,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center. “Instead, citizens are forced to take legal action to acquire Peabody’s permitting records.”

Between 1970 - 2005, Black Mesa coal was sent via a 273-mile pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station. During that time, Peabody tapped the sole source of drinking water for the adjacent Navajo and Hopi communities, pumping an average of 4,600 acre feet of water annually from the aquifer. The company’s Kayenta mine continues to supply coal to the Navajo Generating Station, located near Page, Ariz., and has done so since 1973.

“Peabody’s coal-mining operations will contribute to global warming-related droughts and exacerbate the drying effects of groundwater depletion on wells, springs and creeks,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case. “OSM’s inability to produce a valid operating permit for Peabody raises a whole host of questions. This lawsuit will force full disclosure.”

On the flip side, environmental activists and organizations continue to be blacklisted as the biggest threats to the Hopi and Navajo tribes. The Hopi Tribe passed a resolution on Sept. 28, 2009, barring conservationists from traveling on reservation lands, and Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. threw his support behind the move.

The Hopi Council cited the closure of the Mohave Generating Station, which used coal exclusively from Black Mesa, as one example of an objectionable action by environmental groups. Located in Laughlin, Nev., the Mohave Generating Station was shuttered in 2005 following a lawsuit that alleged numerous air quality violations at the plant. This closure resulted in the loss of as much as $8.5 million in tribal revenues per year, according to the Hopi Council. The Navajo Nation said there were parallels with opposition to the Desert Rock Power Plant and the Environmental Protection Agency’s repeal of the permit for the plant.



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.