MAC: Mines and Communities

Hopi and Navajo unite to stop Peabody's mega mining disaster

Published by MAC on 2008-12-22

In a last-minute bid to prevent manifold destruction - especially to water supplies - threatened by Peabody Coal's Black Mesa project, members of the Hopi and Navajo (Dine) tribal have rallied at the US government Office of Surface Mining.

They hope to delay any fatal decision on the project until after the Obama administration takes office next year.

However, Ken Salazar - nominated by Obama as his new Secretary of the Interior - is criticised by many environrnentalists as being too closely linked to mining intesets.

Navajo & Hopi Tribes Call to Suspend Decision on Peabody Coal's Black Mesa Project

Black Mesa Water Coalition Press Release

12th December 2008

Denver, CO - A delegation of 35 Navajo and Hopi tribal members, including Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, met with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) at their Denver headquarters in hopes of delaying OSM's "Record of Decision" until the next Presidential Administration takes office. The "Record of Decision" (ROD) is the final stage of the permitting process for the proposed "Black Mesa Project," which would grant Peabody Coal Company a "life-of-mine" permit-- expanded mining operations and rights to tap the fresh water of the Navajo aquifer.

For three hours the Navajo and Hopi representatives met with OSM officials and presented documents and petitions ratified by their communities that urge OSM to suspend their decision. Their unified statement read, "Although we represent two different tribes, we come today united to protect our shared land and water. Water is the life source to both our peoples, and Peabody has failed to understand this connection. If the Office of Surface Mining grants a permit to Peabody, our way of life and spiritual balance will be severely disrupted and altered.

Currently, we are already suffering the damage this industry has caused over the past 30 years. We believe OSM has been negligent in fulfilling the NEPA process, and if OSM issues a "Record of Decision" that would be a breach of the Federal Trust Responsibility. United we ask the Office of Surface Mining to stop the "Record of Decision" process."

OSM Western Regional Director Al Klein stated, "The Environmental Impact Statement process is finalized, the decision before us is very minor, and we are on track to release it on Dec. 15." The tribal representatives expressed the weight of this decision and that it is not a "minor" decision. They also gave testimony to the many aspects of their life, culture, and spirituality that would be severely impacted if the project was approved. Gordon Isaac, a Navajo tribal member and veteran of the Gulf War told the officials, "Peabody is not just digging into topsoil. They are tearing into people's lifeways."

While most of the delegation was inside meeting with OSM officials, 60 local supporters accompanied the rest of the Navajo and Hopi delegation outside to rally, protest, and show support, including dropping a 10ft by 16ft banner from a nearby parking garage that read, "Navajo & Hopi Say NO COAL MINING!" Support was not only outside of the building. OSM's telephone and fax lines were bombarded with calls of support and written requests to postpone the ROD from across the country.

After listening to three hours of emotional testimony, OSM was asked if they would simply consider suspending the record of decision. Director Klein replied, "We have a set of regulations, and when a company puts on paper in their application how they will fulfill the requirements, we do not have discretion. We have to grant them a permit...At this point we will not be changing the calender of events on this decision."

This decision comes in the midst of Hopi political turmoil. Chairman Nuvamsa came to represent the Hopi and Tewa people in the battle to protect the water and lands from further coal mining in Black Mesa, AZ. "Due to lack of representation on the Hopi Tribal Council, the Village of Tewa was never afforded the opportunity to participate in any discussion of the Draft EIS as it applies to Hopi people and land," stated Chairman Nuvamsa.

"Hopis believe that this time of year is a very sacred and sensitive time that prevents us from stepping outside our home area, because it's the time of renewal for all life. We are taught not to be disruptive and confrontational during this time. It is such a big sacrifice for us to be here in Denver, but OSM continues to release critical decisions during this time; so many of our people have not been able to to voice their grave concerns about this Black Mesa Project. We feel an obligation to our families, clans, and future, so we have come here despite our cultural restrictions." says Racheal Povatah, a Hopi tribal member.

Navajo and Hopi citizen's were given 45 days to comment on a revised "Black Mesa Project" Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and were never offered a public commenting period. Requests for commenting period extensions were denied by OSM as well as requests for OSM to come to Navajo and Hopi lands for question and answer meetings.

Arizona Congressman, and leading candidate for Secretary of Interior in the Obama Administration, Raúl M. Grijalva has asked current Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne to suspend further consideration of Peabody's permit. "At present, OSM is rushing to approve a life-of-mine permit, first without making the permit revisions sufficiently available for public review, and then without adequate environmental review."

"Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos," stated Grijalva. "The Secretary, as the trustee for Native American tribes, must ensure that mining is done responsibly on tribal lands and that tribes actually want mining to occur. This project does not meet that test."

In addition, the power plant that previously used Black Mesa Mine coal shut down, and there is no other proposed use for the coal whose mining would be permitted by OSM. As a result, there is no actual proposed project involving Black Mesa Mine coal to be analyzed-- making the pending decision not only premature-- but in direct conflict with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. According to former Hopi Tribal Chairman, Vernon Masayesva, "No customer means no project - you can't do an EIS unless you have a real project, yet OSM is going ahead with getting a life-of-mine permit."

Black Mesa Navajo and Hopi residents are concerned about how this project will impact the future of their homelands given the history of Peabody's unwise use of the Navajo Aquifer. "For decades coal and water from our lands have been taken to power Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Yet, we have have suffered the loss of our sole source drinking water to accommodate the over consumption of these areas," says Wahleah Johns, Co-Director of Black Mesa Water Coalition.

Black Mesa is the ancestral homelands to thousands of Navajo and Hopi families and is regarded as a sacred mountain to the Navajo people and plays an integral role in the cultural survival for the future generations of both the Navajo and Hopi people.

Contacts: Wahleah Johns, (928) 637-5281 and Chelsea Chee, (928) 637-5592

* Hi-res, rights-free photos available at (tagged: navajo hopi denver protest)

Latest Obama environment picks raise eyebrows

Suzanne Goldenberg

Guardian (UK)

17th December 2008

Environmental groups have given a guarded response to Barack Obama's newest cabinet picks,just days after hailing his assembly of the "green dream team

Obama rolled out the latest additions to his team at a press conference in Chicago, choosing the Colorado Senator, Ken Salazar, as his secretary of the interior and the former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack, for agriculture.

Obama said with Salazar that the interior department would be led by a man with a more "pro-active vision" when it came to protecting wildlife and wilderness. He said that Salazar and Vilsack would "serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers but family farmers and the American people".

There was a mixed response to both choices - unlike the near universal acclaim from greens this week for Obama's announcement of the Nobel laureate, Steven Chu,as energy secretary, and the Al Gore supporter, Carol Browner, as the new White House climate "tsarina".

Obama's pick as interior secretary had been keenly anticipated by environmentalists - the post oversees public land use and mineral rights. After the Environmental Protection Agency, the interior department is generally viewed as the agency most damaged by the last eight years of environmentally unfriendly policies from George W Bush.

An inspector general's report published this week accused Bush's interior department of running a "secret society" of politically motivated officials who colluded to strip away wildlife protections from species at risk of going extinct. It said the officials tampered with scientific reports on at least a dozen occasions to strip away protections for endangered fish and other wildlife.

While Salazar has supported offshore drilling for oil, he also has a strong record on conservation and opposed Bush's plans to set aside huge tracts of land in the Rocky Mountain West for highly polluting oil shale extraction. But this was not enough to convince the 150 green organisations that supported other contenders for the post, sending a petition to Obama backing Salazar's rivals.

Green organisations see Salazar, a rancher, as too closely tied to old-fashioned western industries like mining. Word of the Colorado Senator's appointment was welcomed by mining organisations.

The Centre for Biological Diversity, a green organisation based in Arizona, said Salazar lacked the strong record on reform needed to clean up the department. It noted Salazar voted against increased fuel efficiency standards for US government vehicles.

"Obama's choices for secretary of energy and his climate change tsar indicate a determined willingness to take on global warming," Kieran Suckling, the centre's director, said. "That team will be weakened by the addition of Ken Salazar, who has fought against federal action on global warming, against higher fuel efficiency standards, and for increased oil drilling and oil subsidies."

Other organisations were more positive about the choice. "He has been a very vocal critic of the Bush administration's reckless approach to rampant land development in the west," said Josh Dorner, a spokesman for the Sierra Club.

There was also a mixed response to the appointment of Vilsack, 58, a former Iowa governor who supported Hillary Clinton for presidential candidate.

As governor of America's major corn producing state, Vilsack has been an advocate of the ethanol industry. That has raised concerns among some environmentalists because his new role will put him in charge of America's policy on biofuels.

"From our perspective biofuels like corn-based ethanol cause tremendous damage around the world," said Glenn Hurowitz, media director of Greenpeace USA.

"We hope that the next agriculture secretary is realistic about the damage that ethanol mandates do to the climate." Biofuels have been charged with barely reducing carbon emissions and forcing up global food prices.

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