Cindy Yurth, TSÉYI Bureau, Navajo Times,
January 8, 2009
CHINLE – In a move that surprised
no one, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining gave Peabody
Western Coal Co. a Christmas present, approving the
company's application to roll the closed Black Mesa
Mine into the life-of-mine permit for the Kayenta Mine.
The record of decision, available for
download at www.wrcc.osmre.gov/, was published Dec.
Peabody's spokeswoman Beth Sutton said
the move gives the company more "flexibility"
in the use of its coal leases, although any new mining
in the Black Mesa Complex, as the incorporated leases
are being called, will still have to be approved by
Local environmental groups decried
the decision, arguing that to extend a life-of-mine permit
when there is no identified customer for the Black Mesa
coal and no clear plan of operation amounts to giving
Peabody a blank check
decision will uproot the sacred connection that we have
to land, water, and all living things on Black Mesa,"
stated Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition
in a press release from that organization.
Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, who
resigned last Wednesday amid political turmoil, had
opposed the permit. He noted it gives the Navajo and
Hopi tribes, who jointly own the mineral rights, less
leverage to renegotiate leases and assert more control
over their resources.
The Hopi Tribal Council's Energy Team,
however, has given its blessing to the permit - one
of the bones of contention between Nuvamsa and the council.
President Joe Shirley Jr. has gone on
record in favor of the permit, pointing to the increased
royalty revenue and jobs that would be generated by
The Black Mesa mine shut down three
years ago when its sole customer, the Mohave Generating
Station in Laughlin, Nev., ended operations rather than
spend billions retrofitting to comply with modern emissions
Unlike the new permit, the coal slurry
pipeline that supplied the station will not be reopened,
removing the need for the 4,000 acre-feet of Navajo
Aquifer water the pipeline used annually. However, the
Kayenta Mine, which supplies the Navajo Generating Station
near Page, will continue to use about 1,200 acre-feet
per year for its day-to-day operations.
The 19,000-acre lease associated with
the Black Mesa Mine, and all its existing facilities,
will be incorporated with the already permitted 44,000
acres of Kayenta Mine, bringing the total permitted
acreage to nearly 63,000 acres.
Included in that acreage is approximately
6,000 acres of coal reserves that have never been mined.
The new permit does not allow Peabody to mine this land.
However, the company could apply for mining authorization
after submitting a detailed plan of operation.
Sutton said the company is hoping the
700-page environmental impact statement prepared for
the permit is thorough enough that no new environmental
research will have to be done in the event the company
wants to mine that coal.
"Hopefully, most of the groundwork
is laid and it gives us some flexibility in our future
direction," she said.
But Nuvamsa and others have accused
the company of wanting to combine the mines to assure
that the present leases, which are in effect only as
long as there is an identified customer for the coal,
stay intact. This way, the tribes will not have the
opportunity to renegotiate for higher royalties, or
investigate other possible lessees, they contend.
Sutton said the tribes can and do approach
Peabody bout the leases at any time.
"We're in constant communication
with the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe about our
mining operations in the joint use area," she said.
Peabody had been attempting to obtain
a life-of-mine permit for Black Mesa for 18 years, but
OSM had declined previous applications until opposition
by many locals to the use of the N-Aquifer to slurry
coal could be resolved.
According to the record of decision,
the demise of the pipeline makes the water use a moot
In the document, OSM also argues that
the area will actually have more environmental protection
under a permanent permit.
"Because the permanent regulatory
program contains a more comprehensive set of environmental
protection measures than the initial regulatory program,
a higher degree of environmental protections will be
afforded this area when it is permitted," the document
The environmentalists are having none
"The permit process was flawed
and clearly rushed through before President Bush leaves
office," states Black Mesa Water Coalition co-director
Enei Begaye in the group's press release. "We are
looking into our options for how to stop this process
from moving forward, including legal action."