MAC: Mines and Communities

Navajos Protest Water Talks With Peabody Coal

Published by MAC on 2006-04-24
Source: Indian Country Today

Navajos protest water talks with Peabody Coal

by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today

24th April 2006

The image

[Photos courtesy Calvin Johnson] -- Navajo Jeanette Chee (standing), 62, of Canyon Diablo, Ariz., Navajo singer and NAMMY Award nominee Radmilla Cody, of Leupp, Ariz., prepared signs calling for the protection of Navajo aquifers during a recent protest at the Navajo Nation Council chambers. Navajos protested the use of the aquifers' water to create electricity for non-Navajos. See story on page A5. Bottom photo -- A Navajo from Black Mesa held a sign critical of Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. Navajos protested the tribe's negotiations with Peabody Coal, opposing the use of Navajos' pristine aquifer water by coal mines and power plants to create electricity for non-Navajos in the Southwest.

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajos marched to the Navajo Nation Council and protested the tribe's negotiations with Peabody Coal, opposing the use of Navajos' pristine aquifer water by coal mines and power plants.

Navajos from remote areas, many of whom live without running water and drive long distances to haul their drinking water, protested ongoing negotiations with Peabody Coal for continued use of the N and C aquifers' water for coal slurry in Arizona.

Anna Frazier, Navajo, said Navajos pay the price with their health and lives so corporations can reap the benefits by producing electricity for non-Navajos in the Southwest.

"We have to pay for gasoline and wear and tear on our vehicles to haul water. What does that tell us? We live in the United States of America, a country that is supposed to be the richest nation in the world; but here we are indigenous peoples with natural resources making other people rich and providing electricity in other states, but we are the poorest nation. That is wrong.

"Instead of giving our water away, why don't we look at the policies, regulations to protect our resources, revisit the policies and the treaties? Why don't we rewrite those policies to fit our way of life here on our reservation?"

During a meeting with Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo marchers voiced opposition to Peabody's water use and opposed the tribe's planned Desert Rock Power Plant. They said the power plant will increase pollution and health hazards for Navajos in New Mexico, where power plants and industries have fouled the air and water in the Four Corners region.

Jeannette Chee, who lives near Leupp in Arizona, told Shirley that Navajos don't want their C-Aquifer water used for coal slurry because it will dry up the land and leave little water for their livestock and children's future.

Johanna Begay and Fern Benally, from Black Mesa, pointed out the long-term health damage to Navajos from coal mining for those who live around the mines, including asthma and lung diseases.

Although marchers were able to meet with Shirley and received the attention of the Navajo Nation Council, protesters said they were disappointed that the Navajo attorney general went into executive session with the Navajo Nation Council to discuss Peabody Coal negotiations.

The Navajo public was prohibited from hearing the negotiations.

Louise Benally, of Big Mountain, said Navajos from Black Mesa protested "secret deals" that are under way between the Navajo and Hopi tribes with Peabody and efforts to reopen the Mohave Generating Station.

Benally said Navajos also opposed increases in utility surcharges by the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

"This is like punching the people again, over and over. I was there to say, 'Keep Mohave closed! Navajos need to look into alternative energy and save the water for their own needs,"' Benally told Indian Country Today.

During lunch, protesters heard from Navajo organizers Anna Frazier and Calvin Johnson from the organization Dine' for C-Aquifer; Enei Begaye, from the Indigenous Environmental Network; Wahleah Johns, from Black Mesa Water Coalition; Sarah White, from the Dooda Desert Rock Committee; and Nicole Horseherder, from To' Nizhoni Ani.

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington said leaders of the Hopi and Navajo nations are preparing to decide the fate of the enormous mining company's water permit.

Tribes received the findings of a recent scientific report that predicts grave consequences for the aquifer - which supplies most of the drinking water to American Indians in northeastern Arizona - if the project is allowed to proceed.

Coal-mining giant Peabody Energy is asking the two nations, as well as the federal government, for permission to increase access to the Navajo Aquifer, which lies beneath Black Mesa, by more than 50 percent.

However, an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that Peabody has already exceeded legal limits established to protect Hopi and Navajo water supplies, and found that years of industrial pumping has already caused material damage to the vital resource.

"The new evidence confirms what the Hopi and Navajo have suspected for years: that Peabody is draining their main source of drinking water at a rate that cannot be sustained. Now the company wants a bigger straw to finish off the job," said Timothy Grabiel, an author of the NRDC report. "Based on this evidence, there's simply no way to justify letting them have it."

Officials from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, part of the Department of Interior, have said they have seen no signs that Peabody is harming the aquifer.

However, using the government's own data, NRDC found as early as 2000 that seven of nine monitored springs showed a decline in excess of 10 percent and more than a third of monitored wells had fallen below the water level needed to guarantee against collapse or contamination of the underground reservoir.

The new report showed that most of those springs and wells have continued to decline.

"The NRDC report raises serious red flags that Peabody's activities are harming the Navajo Aquifer and, therefore, our way of life," said Begaye. "Our leaders must take a hard look at this new evidence."

© 1998-2006 Indian Country Today.

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