Peabody Energy & Office of Surface Mining Collude to Reopen Black Mesa Strip Mine
A few days before Christmas, the Office of Surface Mining unexpectedly released a 758-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Peabody Energy's Black Mesa Mining complex. There is a lot of political pressure from the Salt River Project to reopen the shuttered Mohave power plant to provide electricity to Phoenix, and Peabody is trying to take advantage of this to obtain a "Life-of-Mine" permit to revive their Black Mesa Mine and restart the slurry line that we all worked 30 years to shut down. Comment letters are needed by February 6. A sample letter and full instructions along with additional information are below.
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Additional information regarding Peabody Energy and Black Mesa:
Peabody Energy and the Office of Surface Mining are planning to reopen the devastating Black Mesa Mine Project! The Hopi and Navajo need your help!
The Office of Surface Mining, the federal agency in charge of regulating mining in the United States, may allow coal giant Peabody Energy to once again drain the precious aquifers of Black Mesa in northern Arizona, sacred waters to the Hopi and Navajo and lifeblood of the region's fragile environment. Your comment letters are needed by February 6 (see sample letter below).
The Office of Surface Mining (OSM) has issued a 758-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that assesses the impact of mining on the Coconino and Navajo Aquifers on Arizona's Black Mesa, in the heart of the Hopi and Navajo Nations. OSM's recommendations would pave the way for Peabody to reopen its Black Mesa Mine and with it the destructive coal slurry line that had dramatically drained the Navajo Aquifer for 30 years. What's at stake is a fragile ecosystem in the midst of drought, the drinking water for thousands of residents in the growing towns around the Colorado Plateau, and the cultural heritage of the Hopi and Navajo peoples.
The Black Mesa Project targets pristine groundwater to slurry coal to the Mohave Generating Station - a practice that the community opposed for three decades and succeeded in stopping last year. Despite the closure of the air-polluting Mohave power plant, and with no viable plans for reopening it, Peabody Energy and Salt River Project are moving forward with plans to re-start these destructive practices. This time, Peabody Energy and Salt River Project want to tap into the Coconino Aquifer (south of Black Mesa, between Flagstaff and Winslow) while also increasing access to the Navajo Aquifer, so that they can reopen the controversial coal slurry line from the Black Mesa Mine to the Mohave power plant in Laughlin, Nevada (273 miles to the west).
The Office of Surface Mining fast-tracked public hearings immediately after the holiday season in early January (precluding participation by Hopis who were participating in winter solstice ceremonies). The EIS public comment deadline is February 6.
Peabody's plan to use the Navajo and Coconino Aquifers to once again slurry coal to the Mohave Power Station is "Alternative A" (or most preferred) in OSM's draft EIS. Peabody's plan would mean that mining would expand into undeveloped areas, tap further into the Coconino and Navajo Aquifers, and force the relocation of at least 17 Black Mesa residents and 55 residents in the Leupp area, south of Black Mesa. The Navajo Aquifer has already been devastated, with 7 local springs and several wells down by approximately 30%. If Alternative A is approved, Peabody could pump up to 6,000 acre feet per year from the Navajo Aquifer until 2026, a 33% increase over what they extracted from 1970 to 2005. Meanwhile, Peabody has not taken the steps mandated by federal law to reduce its hydrological impact at the Kayenta Mine, another mine it currently operates on Black Mesa.
Most critically, the OSM is considering issuing a "Life-of-Mine" permit to Peabody, which would mean that Peabody could mine coal at Black Mesa until 2026. (The controversial mine was allowed to operate with a temporary permit for 30 years!)
If the plan to allow Peabody to restart its Black Mesa Mine goes ahead, the cultural implications will be dramatic. The Hopi and Navajo's ability to grow traditional foods and herbal medicines, as well as access ceremonial sites and perform rituals, will all be affected. Also, the Hopi are now in the most important phase of their ceremonial calendar, when the elders have entered the kivas, and so they are outraged that the OSM has chosen to release the EIS at a time when the Hopi people are unable to fully consider it - and organize to protest it.
The Trustees and Advisors of Black Mesa Trust (BMT) asked that the federal government postpone its scheduled hearings on the EIS, but the government went ahead with the hearings. Activists also wants the OSM to consider a "No Water Alternative" which would transition the Mohave Generating Station into a solar thermal plant and the Black Mesa Mine into a solar and wind farm. Black Mesa Trust points to Southern California Edison's "Mohave Alternatives Study" for evaluation of such an alternative. BMT is preparing to file an injunction should the OSM move forward with its recommendations.
Public hearings were held by the OSM through January 11. But, you can still write in your comments by e-mail or letter to the OSM before the February 6th deadline. Cut and paste the sample letter below or craft your own, and e-mail to BMKEIS@osmre.gov or snail mail your letter to Dennis Winterringer, Leader of the Black Mesa Project EIS, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, at the address below. If you e-mail your comment, please indicate in the subject line that comments are for the "BMP Draft EIS Comments."
Dennis Winterringer, Leader of the Black Mesa Project EIS
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
Western Regional Coordinating Center
P.O. Box 46667
Denver, CO 80201-6667
RE: BMP Draft EIS Comments
I strongly oppose the reopening of the Black Mesa Project and call for the OSM to deny Peabody Western Coal Company any permit to operate the project. The use of fresh groundwater to slurry and wash coal in a time of severe drought, while the population in the Southwestern United States is rapidly growing and local farmers are unable to irrigate their crops, is morally reprehensible. Further, the BMP would only provide a short-term supply of greenhouse gas-emitting, non-renewable energy sources while causing irreparable environmental and cultural damage and the relocation of people from their homes. This is unacceptable!
I ask that the OSM extend the Draft Black Mesa Project EIS commenting period, so that the affected communities may adequately review and understand the proposals of the EIS. As the EIS was released without proper notification of the concerned communities and during the winter holiday period when many people could not attend public hearings, it is appropriate to extend the comment period 50 days.
The OSM needs to update its hydrological model for the N-Aquifer and provide sufficient information demonstrating the C-Aquifer is a viable supply of water and that withdrawals will not have adverse hydrological or wildlife impacts. It also must do adequate studies on the effects of "coal washing" and the causes of land subsidence. The OSM must also require that the operating firms, in this case Peabody Western Coal Company and the Salt River Project, put up bonds that would pay for any future damage to the land and the aquifers.
I encourage you to refuse Peabody's mining permit and support Alternative C (No Action) and more fully explore the No Water Alternative (transitioning the Mohave Generating Station to a solar thermal plant). This would create an opportunity for America to shift its energy consumption to renewable and clean energy sources and would protect a culturally sacred yet fragile environment for generations to come.
For more information, check our website report on Black Mesa or visit Black Mesa Trust.
You can also read a Sierra Magazine (Jan/Feb 2007) profile of Hopi activist Vernon Masayesva, "The Rainmaker: A Hopi leader champions clean power in Indian Country."