demise leaves Black Mesa plan in limbo
By Marley Shebala, Navajo
Times, June 14, 2007
WINDOW ROCK - Tomorrow, June 15, will
mark one month since Southern California Edison threw
in the towel in its battle to revive the Mohave Generating
Station, sole customer for coal from the Navajo Nation's
Black Mesa Mine.
On May 18, California Edison attorney
Summer K. Koch informed the California Public Utilities
Commission that it would drop efforts to find a new
owner for the 26-year-old power plant, which closed
in December 2005.
The company last year announced it would
not attempt to restart the plant itself, primarily because
the cost to install pollution control equipment was
Koch stated that Edison also would stop
funding an environmental impact statement for the so-called
Black Mesa Project, a proposal to expand coal mining
on Black Mesa and rebuild the aging slurry pipeline
used to move the coal from mine to power plant.
The mine was operated by Peabody Western
Coal Co. but it shut down when Mohave closed and Peabody's
lease with the Navajo Nation expired Dec. 31, 2005.
Over 100 Navajos lost their jobs in the shutdown.
Peabody still operates the adjacent
Kayenta Mine, which supplies the Navajo Generating Station
at Page, Ariz., under a separate lease with the tribe.
Peabody maintains that mining operations
at the Black Mesa Mine are not over, but merely suspended
and the company developed the Black Mesa Project to
seek a "life-of-mine" extension on its lease.
An environmental impact statement is
being done under the auspices of the federal Office
of Surface Mining.
Peabody spokesperson Beth Sutton would
not give a "yes" or "no" answer
on whether Peabody would assume the cost of continuing
the Black Mesa Project EIS, which is required under
Sutton would only say, "The
EIS process is necessary for any coal development project
on Black Mesa, and Peabody will be a proponent of this
She said Peabody was "disappointed"
with SCE's decision to abandon efforts to sell or restart
Mohave, but remained optimistic that Salt River Project,
which owns the second largest share of Mohave after
Edison, would continue discussing another use for Mohave.
Sutton added that Peabody, the Navajo
Nation and Hopi Tribe "continue to seek coal-related
opportunities that would allow the Black Mesa Mine to
resume operations, which would greatly benefit the local
economy and tribal members."
She also stated that Edison's decision
has not changed the status of Peabody's Black Mesa Mine,
which is a "suspension of miming activities rather
Edison, meanwhile, has asked CPUC for
permission to conduct a $52-million feasibility study
of sites suitable for coal gasification, a "clean
coal" technique to produce electric power.
However, a utility spokesman said Wednesday
that it would be a year or more before Edison could
say whether the old Mohave site might be a focus of
For us to examine a location we need
several things, such as type of coal and is the site
geologically suitable for carbon burying," said
Gil Alexander, Edison spokesman, adding that the land's
ability to trap carbon would be crucial to which site
Sutton said Peabody has not abandoned
hope of finding a new use for the Black Mesa Mine.
"Our goal is to resume operations
at Black Mesa Mine, and we are continuing to explore
the potential for other coal-related projects with the
Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe," Sutton stated.
"Projects of this complexity and scope require
a thoughtful process and long lead time."
As far back as 1999, however, Peabody
and the tribes were put on alert when Mohave owners
agreed to a six-year limit on continued operations because
the plant violated federal air quality standards.
No alternative customer for the
Black Mesa Mine has ever been named, despite the existence
of at least three coal-fired power plants that were closer
to the mine than Mohave.
of the plants, the Coronado Generating Station hear
Springerville, Ariz., expanded during that time, adding
another generator. The new generator burns coal shipped
in from a Peabody mine in Wyoming.
On May 23, the Navajo Times e-mailed
President Joe Shirley Jr. several questions regarding
Edison's May 18 decision and his strategy for the Black
George Hardeen, Shirley's spokesperson,
replied in a May 23 e-mail that he needed more time
to get answers but, as of press time Wednesday, had
not responded further.
Shirley has been a staunch supporter
of extending Peabody's lease on the Black Mesa Mine.
In January 2004, with the closure of
Mohave looming, he signed a memorandum of understanding
with Peabody, California Edison, SRP, the Hopi Tribe,
OSM and other federal agencies for a study - to be financed
by Edison, Peabody and SRP - to examine whether the
Coconino Aquifer could be used to supply Peabody's needs,
including continued operation of the coal slurry. (See
Opponents of the Mohave plant, which
was the dirtiest power plant still operating west of
the Mississippi before it shut down, contended that
the study was intended to make Mohave seem like a viable
proposition for potential buyers.
But there were no takers for it anyway.
Meanwhile, a coalition of Navajo and
Hopi grassroots organizations and environmental groups
said it was not surprised by Edison's decision. (See
If authorized, the proposed Black Mesa
Project would consolidate Peabody's control of coal
reserves on the mesa permanently.
It would also authorize construction
of a coal-washing facility, two more miles of coal roadway
for the Black Mesa Mine, 1,600 acre-feet of additional
ground water usage annually, development of 12 to 21
water wells in Leupp, Ariz., construction of a new 108-mile
pipeline to transfer water from the Leupp wells to the
mine, and reconstruction of the 273-mile coal slurry