MAC: Mines and Communities

USA: Navajo, Environmental Organizations Partner to Appeal Peabody's Kayenta Coal Permit

Published by MAC on 2012-02-28
Source: Statement (2012-02-17)

Navajo & Environmental Organizations Partner to Appeal Peabody's Kayenta Coal Permit

Appeal filed today aims to protect critical drinking water below Black Mesa

Joint press release

17 February 2012

To Nizhoni Valley, Ariz- A group of five organizations, To Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine C.A.R.E, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal yesterday that challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's (OSM) decision to renew a permit for Peabody Coal Company's dirty Kayenta mine.

The appeal charges that OSM revised a permit without considering data and analysis demonstrating how Peabody's pumping of the Navajo Aquifer for coal mining operations is linked to declining water levels, springs and groundwater quality in Navajo communities.

The appeal also charges that OSM ignored these signs of material damage and changed the criteria that the agency has used for evaluating the mine's impact on Black Mesa's Navajo Aquifer since 1989.

"With this appeal we are ensuring that Peabody is held accountable to the federal laws that protect our communities, environment, water, sacred places and cultural resources," states Jihan Gearon of Black Mesa Water Coalition. "It's time for OSM to stop facilitating the destruction of our lands and instead support us in holding the corporations who operate on our lands accountable."

The Navajo Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water to thousands of Navajo and Hopi residents and has a central role in each tribe's cultural practices. For nearly 40 years Peabody has mined the Kayenta Mine, which has supplied approximately 8.5 million tons of coal annually to the Navajo Generating Station in northeastern Arizona.

Both the Kayenta Mine and the coal plant operations have significantly impacted several indigenous communities, particularly in the Black Mesa region, by damaging community health and polluting water resources.

"Drinking water wells in our community have declined over a hundred feet. Sinkholes and cracks near Forest Lakes have occurred where the surface is subsiding. Water quality has deteriorated and our sacred springs are disappearing. For OSM to just ignore this and say there are no significant impacts is a violation of their trust responsibility to our people," states Marshall Johnson of To Nizhoni Ani.

Between 1969 and 2005 alone, Peabody pumped over 4,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Navajo Aquifer and continues to pump approximately 1,200 acre-feet for use at its mine operations. Peabody has historically been the largest pumper of regional groundwater, which is also used by local indigenous communities as their primary source of drinking water.

Moreover, OSM's permit allows Peabody to expand their operations into new areas that will force Navajo families to relocate, losing their ancestral homes for more coal development. "Four families will be relocated to make way for the mine expansion," states Anna Frazier of Dine CARE. "How many more communities must be uprooted before OSM believes the impacts of this mine operation are significant?"

The appeal also argues that OSM failed to comply with several environmental laws and has [alloed] Peabody [to keep] from posting adequate bonds to help pay for reclamation of the mine areas. "Peabody has gotten another rubber stamp from OSM and local residents' health and homes have been sacrificed in the name of cheap coal. OSM must do better a better job to protect the communities of Black Mesa," states Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club.

The organizations are represented on appeal by attorney Brad Bartlett of the Western Energy Justice Project and Margot Pollans of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University. For a copy of the appeal, log onto this link: http://db.tt/6xtEdXIH

Contact:

Marshall Johnson, To Nizhoni Ani (928) 675-1852
Jihan Gearon, Black Mesa Water Coalition (928) 380-6684
Anna Frazier, Dine C.A.R.E. (928) 401-0382
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity (928) 310-6713
Andy Bessler, Sierra Club (928) 380-7808

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