Black Mesa Peabody Coal controversy

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The Black Mesa Peabody Coal controversy arose in the 1960s over a mineral lease in the Black Mesa plateau of the Four Corners region in the western United States. The plateau overlaps the reservations of the Navajo and Hopi Tribes.

The controversy arose from an unusually generous agreement negotiated under questionable circumstances between the Tribes and Peabody Energy, and the coal company's use and degradation of a potable source of water to transport coal via a pipeline from the mine to a power plant hundreds of miles away.


In 1964, Peabody Energy (then Peabody Western Coal), a publicly traded energy company based in the Midwestern United States signed a contract with the Navajo Tribe and two years later with the Hopi Tribe, allowing the company mineral rights and use of an aquifer. The contract offered unusually advantageous terms for Peabody and was approved despite widespread opposition and the lack of clear authority by the governments of the respective Native American tribes. It was negotiated by prominent natural resources attorney John Sterling Boyden, who claimed to be representing the Hopi Tribe while actually on the payroll of Peabody.[1]

Peabody Energy pumped water from the underground Navajo Aquifer in a slurry pipeline operation to transport extracted coal to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada. The Navajo Aquifer is the main source of potable groundwater for the Navajo and Hopi tribes, who use the water for farming and livestock maintenance as well as drinking and other domestic uses. The tribes have alleged that the pumping of water by Peabody Energy has caused a severe decline in potable water and contamination of water sources. Both tribes, situated in an arid semi-desert, attach religious significance to water, considering it sacred, and have cultural, religious, and practical objections to over-use of water.

The Peabody mine, a coal strip mine, used the slurry to pump its coal through pipes 273 mi (439 km) away, where the coal could be filtered and used in the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada. The generating station produces energy for the southern parts of Arizona, California and Nevada. This was the only coal slurry operation in the country and only plant that used groundwater in such a way.

The Black Mesa Mine's last day of operation was December 31, 2005.

The Office of Surface Mining approved Peabody's permit request to continue operations at the mine on 22 December 2008. However, in January 2010, an administrative law judge, on appeal of that approval, decided that the Final EIS did not satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act because it did not take into account changed conditions, and vacated the approval.[2][3]


  1. ^ John Dougherty (1997-05-01). "A People Betrayed". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2007-08-29. 
  2. ^ "Current Initiatives: Black Mesa Project" Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) website
  3. ^ Holt, Robert G. (administrative law judge) (7 January 2010) "Opinion In re: Black Mesa Complex Permit Revision" Office of Hearings and Appeals, United States Department of the Interior

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Coordinates: 36°31′29″N 110°23′55″W / 36.52472°N 110.39861°W / 36.52472; -110.39861