Black Mesa Peabody Coal controversy
Peabody Energy coal mining operations in the Black Mesa plateau of the Four Corners region in the western United States began in the 1960s and continue today. The plateau overlaps the reservations of the Navajo and Hopi Tribes.
Controversy arose from an unusually generous mineral lease agreement negotiated under questionable circumstances between the Tribes and Peabody Energy, 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, and the public health and environmental impacts of strip mining on tribal lands.
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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 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. It offered unusually advantageous terms for Peabody and was approved despite widespread opposition. The contract is also controversial because of misrepresentations made to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.
Peabody Energy pumps water from the underground Navajo Aquifer for washing coal, and, until 2005, in a slurry pipeline operation to transport extracted coal to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada. With the pipeline operating, Peabody pumped, on average, 3 million gallons of water from the Navajo Aquifer every day. The 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 the number of springs. 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.
Peabody's Black Mesa 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.
Coal from the Kayenta mine goes on a conveyor belt to a silo where it is then shipped to the Navajo Generating Station coal plant.
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.
Operations at the Kayenta Mine continue today.
- John Dougherty (1997-05-01). "A People Betrayed". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
- Claudia Rowe (2013-06-06). "Coal Mining On Navajo Nation In Arizona Takes Heavy Toll". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
- "Drawdown: An Update on Groundwater Mining on Black Mesa". National Resources Defense Council. 2000-10. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
- "Current Initiatives: Black Mesa Project" Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) website
- 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
- Ritter, John (March 14, 2006). "Power plant shutdown fuels fight between tribes, utility". USA Today. pp. B1–B2. Retrieved 2006-03-14.
- Richard O. Clemmer (1995). Roads in the Sky: The Hopi Indians in a Century of Change. Westview Press.
- K. Kendrick (2001-12-19). "Draining the Upper World: The Black Mesa Mine and the Navajo Aquifer". Biosphere 2 Center. Archived from the original on 2007-08-05. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
- Peabody Energy company website
- Black Mesa Trust organization
- Black Mesa Indigenous Support
- "Peabody Energy," SourceWatch
- The "Curse of the Black Mesa" and the Lehman Brothers
- Report on the history of Black Mesa as a sacred site
- "Drawdown: An Update on Groundwater Mining on Black Mesa," a 2000 report (updated in 2006) by the Natural Resources Defense Council on the effects on the Hopi's and Navajo's drinking water sources