Peabody to combine mines, upsetting tribes

by Kelsey Volkmann, St. Louis Business Journal, DECEMBER 23, 2008

Despite activists’ and tribal objections, the federal agency that regulates surface mining approved a permit revision that combines the coal reserves and facilities of Peabody Energy’s two Arizona coal mines.

The permit, approved Monday by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, covers Peabody’s Kayenta Mine and now-closed Black Mesa mine.

The permit runs through 2026, and the possibility of more mining at the site has tribes threatening to file a lawsuit.

“We are looking into our options for how to stop this process from moving forward, including legal action,” Enei Begaye, co-director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, a Navajo and Hopi group, said in a statement. "The permitting process was flawed and clearly rushed through before President Bush leaves office."

Approval of the permit increases the reclamation performance bond for the Black Mesa complex from $89 million to nearly $250 million, the agency said. The expanded permit area will now largely coincide with the lease boundary and coal reserves that the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe leased to Peabody.

Environmentalists had fought against the revised permit, arguing they weren't given ample time to comment. They also raised concerns about cultural and spiritual aspects of mining there because it’s Native American land. Sierra Club members and other activists argued against Peabody's use of a Navajo aquifer water they blamed for causing sacred springs to dry up.

"Black Mesa is a female mountain, sacred to the Navajo people, and has been brutally scarred from over 30 years of coal mining activity and the resulting loss of 60 percent of our only source of drinking water," said Wahleah Johns, co-director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. "Our ancestors fought hard to retain our homelands, but even now in 2008 we are up against the same battle to protect our homelands. The abuse to mother earth needs to stop."

About 40 Navajo and Hopi leaders were in Denver earlier this month petitioning federal regulators to offer more environmental and other protections if Peabody reopens the mine. On Tuesday, they threatened to sue Peabody.

The now-shuttered Black Mesa mine and adjacent Kayenta mine have provided revenue and jobs to the Hopi and Navajo tribes for decades. Peabody officials said the company invested more than $2.8 billion in economic benefits, royalties, taxes, wages and donations to the tribes over the years, including a $22 million lease bonus.

Peabody has provided almost $7 million in scholarships for Navajo and Hopi children pursuing college and careers, including a $356,000 donation earlier this year.

The Kayenta Mine supplies 8.5 million tons of coal per year to the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz.

St. Louis-based Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU) is the world’s largest private-sector coal company. Its coal products fuel approximately 10 percent of all U.S. electricity generation. Peabody reported $4.6 billion in 2007 revenue.




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