Black Mesa Peabody Coal controversy

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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.


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.[1] 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.[2]

Peabody Energy developed two coal strip mines on the Black Mesa reservation: the Black Mesa Mine and the Kayenta Mine.

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.[3] 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 (which was shut down in 2005). 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 by train 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.[4][5]

Operations at the Kayenta Mine continue today.

As of April 2018 the mine is preparing to begin operations. Another controversy is their environmental impact on the native wildlife in the area. In this area wild horses have roamed free for centuries. During the mines operations Peabody has our government round up these horses and send them to the Peabody owned and operated auction houses in other states. This last occurred winter of 2018. These wild horses fell through the loophole of the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Act in that they are on Tribal lands without protections. Even though the tribe has actively stated they want the horses and burro to stay they are ignored. The tribe does not have the option to do bait trap, relocate or manage the adoption of these horses and burro. Other wildlife such as elk are also treated as unregulated if on the mines area. Peabody has agreements whether legal or not with government officials that trump the public and tribal wishes when it comes to wildlife.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John Dougherty (1997-05-01). "A People Betrayed". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 2007-08-29.
  2. ^ Claudia Rowe (2013-06-06). "Coal Mining On Navajo Nation In Arizona Takes Heavy Toll". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
  3. ^ "Drawdown: An Update on Groundwater Mining on Black Mesa". National Resources Defense Council. October 2000. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
  4. ^ "Current Initiatives: Black Mesa Project" Archived 2010-06-19 at the Wayback Machine Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) website
  5. ^ Holt, Robert G. (administrative law judge) (7 January 2010) "Opinion In re: Black Mesa Complex Permit Revision" Archived March 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Office of Hearings and Appeals, United States Department of the Interior

Further reading[edit]

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