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Peabody Proposes Expansion of Black Mesa Operations

"The US Office of Surface Mining has once again showed utter disrespect for the rights of Indian people and violated its own principles of environmental justice."

From the air Black Mesa, AZ is shaped like the popular image of the Healing Hand and in fact it carries within its earthly grasp huge resources of what is said to be the sweetest tasting water in the world. This water comes from an aquifer estimated to be 35,000 years old and contains water which has been filtered over the millenia through sandstone and exceeds all federal standards for drinking water. Since the 1970s this water has been used to annually transport 4.5 million tons of coal strip mined from this incredibly beautiful area. Over 3.3 million gallons of Black Mesa water is pumped out of the grounds each day to transport the coal.

The majority of this coal and water are stripped out by Peabody Energy who according to David Beckman of the Natural Resources Defense Council is, " ...the largest coal company on the face of the earth and is the biggest donor other than Enron to the candidacy of George Bush." Peabody mixes the coal and the water into a slurry and pumps this slurry through a pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station 273 miles away where it is transformed into electricity used in Las Vegas and Southern California.

According to a January/February 2002 issue of Spirit of Crazy Horse (SCH), Navaho and Hopi residents of the area blame their dry springs and wells on Peabody Energy. Peabody executive vice president Fred Palmer is quoted in the SCH article as saying, "We're not happy about the continuing controversy over the water. We'd like to see it resolved."

However, according to the Late March 2002 issue of News from Indian Country, Peabody Energy submitted a proposal to the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to increase its coal mining activities and "to use an additional 1,300 acre feet of N-aquifer water.... They currently use 4,400 acre feet of water a year from the aquifer." That's a 32% increase in water taken from an aquifer that's already seriously depleted! Given the actions of his company, Fred Palmer's concerns seem somewhat dubious.

The "Permit Revision" submitted to OSM on January 22, 2002 proposes a new mine pit on Hopi partitioned lands. According to a press release by Black Mesa Trust (BMT), "Why is Peabody doing this? The reason is obvious. The Black Mesa Mine lease with Hopi and Navajo ends December 31, 2005, but the Kayenta lease does not expire until 2011. Peabody desperately needs the coal for the Mohave Generating Station. If Peabody can't deliver, the owners of Mohave will either switch to gas or close the generating station."

The Denver OSM will carry out an Environmental Impact Study before it issues a decision on the revised mine application. While the process is open to the public, BMT charges that the public comment process is unfair, charging:

  • The notices OSM published in local newspapers do not fully reveal the scope of what Peabody is asking to do.

  • The notices are published in English, which many Hopi and Navajo do not read.

  • The notices do not include a map or a description that is comprehensible to people without a technical background to show where Peabody wants to expand its operations.

In response to these charges Brent Walquist, OSM's Regional Director, flatly refused to reconsider the public comment process for the applications except to extend the public comment period from March 29 until April 29 of this year. In addition, he asserted that Peabody would be required to publish notices of the proposed mining permit revisions only in English because, "Hopi is not yet a written language."

"The US Office of Surface Mining has once again showed utter disrespect for the rights of Indian people and violated its own principles of environmental justice," stated Vernon Masayesva, BMT Executive Director and former Hopi Tribal Chairman