Peabody coal mine to reopen?

By Cyndy Cole, Arizona Daily Sun, MAY 25, 2008

Peabody Western Coal Company is taking steps to possibly reopen Black Mesa Mine on the Hopi Reservation.

The mine closed in 2005 when the power plant it fed in Nevada shut down amid pollution violations, putting about 150 people out of work and costing the region close to $100 million in direct and indirect payments.

The Office of Surface Mining is rewriting some of the necessary plans to operate the mine, according to a notice filed in the Federal Register on Friday.

But instead of using groundwater to slurry coal more than 270 miles to a now-closed power plant in Laughlin, Nev., the coal could possibly end up at the Navajo Generating Station in Page.

The new plans link the Black Mesa Mine to the Kayenta Mine, treating them as one.

And the Kayenta Mine feeds the Page power plant about 8 million tons of coal per year.

"There is no new customer that is being proposed by Peabody at this point," said Al Klein, regional director of the Office of Surface Mining.

A spokeswoman for Black Mesa Mine did not answer questions about long-term plans for Black Mesa Mine on Friday.

She said mining there would remain "temporarily suspended."

The Sierra Club is opposed to the mine reopening.

"We need to be looking at reducing coal rather than mining more of it, to reduce global warming," said Andy Bessler, of the Sierra Club office in Flagstaff.


Black Mesa Mine is located southwest of Kayenta and once employed 155 union workers, plus management, paying salaries of $50,000 to $80,000.

The Navajo and Hopi tribes, city governments, charities and workers collected $86 million a year directly in royalties, taxes, donations and paychecks from Peabody's operations mining 5 million tons of coal a year there, a Peabody spokeswoman said when the mine closed.

Plans to relocate Navajo families living near the mine, to expand mining, and to tap the Coconino Aquifer to transport coal met opposition from environmental groups and some Navajo residents.

Seventeen households could be relocated and small particulates, which aggravate health problems, could be added to the air near the mine if mining continues and expands, according to a 2007 environmental analysis.


Norman Benally grew up next to what is now the mine.

It has consumed one family home and threatens to destroy others, if expanded.

He complained of noise and lights at the mine that operated around the clock all year, producing air pollution and burning trash.

"It was terrible. You always have this sulfur smell," he said.

Since the mine shut down at the end of 2005, he says the air is cleaner and he can see the stars again.

Though his home and the homes of family members are located about one-quarter mile from the mine, they never received permission to tie into water or power lines, he said.

Benally is a reader, taking a particular interest in business and economics.

Overall, he compares the Navajo Nation to a Third World country, exporting its natural resources to provide power for faraway customers, but never creating lasting new jobs or improving life for residents.

"As long as our tribal council is depending on these energy revenues," he said, "there will be no economic development -- ever."

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at





Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.