Hopi chairman denounces fed finding on Black Mesa

By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau, Navajo Times, NOVEMBER 20, 2008

KEAMS CANYON, Ariz. – Suspended Hopi Tribal Chairman Benjamin Nuvamsa said last week that a federal proposal to incorporate Peabody Western Coal Co.’s idle Black Mesa coal mine into the permit for its Kayenta Mine is a premature decision that could effectively shut out the tribe from decisions about its coal for years to come.

On Nov. 7, the federal Office of Surface Mining announced that folding Black Mesa into the other permit is the preferred alternative in its environmental impact statement on future mining plans for the area.

The idling of the Black Mesa mine in December 2005, when its sole customer shut down, should have been the Hopi’s opportunity to negotiate with Peabody to exert more control over their mineral resources, Nuvamsa said.

Instead, the tribal government has been in such political turmoil that the Hopis missed their chance to even make a unified comment on the draft EIS, which came out in November 2006.

Former tribal chairman Ivan Sidney was removed in late 2006, and Nuvamsa was elected to replace him in February 2007. Nuvamsa’s terms, however, has been plagued by an ongoing feud with Vice Chairman Todd Honyaoma and Nuvamsa’s political opponents on the tribal council, several of whom ran against him in the special election to replace Sidney.

Honyaoma said this would be fine as long as Navajo aquifer water (a major water source on Hopi) was replaced by the larger Coconino aquifer for the coal slurry, cultural impacts were mitigated, and a proposed pipeline for C-aquifer water was rerouted around Kykotsmovi village.

The comment was not endorsed by the tribal council, and Nuvamsa has maintained it represented only Honyaoma’s opinion. Honyaoma was out of the office Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

The tribal council, with a bare quorum of 13, voted Sept. 22 to suspend Nuvamsa from office until he can be investigated for neglect of duty. He is accused of seating three tribal council representatives from First mesa without the constitutionally required approval of First Mesa’s kikmongwi, or religious leader.

Nuvamsa has disputed his suspension in tribal court, but the council last week suspended all three Hopi Appellate Court justices, leaving Nuvamsa without a venue to appeal should the Hopi Tribal Court deny his claim.

Decision approaches

With the environmental impact statement now final, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Office of Surface Mining could issue a decision on Peabody’s Black Mesa permit application as early as Dec. 3.

Nuvamsa said granting Peabody a life-of-mine permit for the Black Mesa Mine when it has no identified customer and no way to transport the coal would be “dangerous.” He urged Hopis to take a stand even though the comment period has ended, the final EIS has been released, and the tribe has no functioning chairman empowered to speak on its behalf.

“It may be too late, but we need to educate our tribal members and we need to put our foot down,” Nuvamsa said. “There has to be some provision where the tribe is an active participant in the management of the mine. This is our coal and we need to have a primary decision-making role so we can use it in an environmentally safe, culturally relevant manner.”

Under alternative B, the preferred alternative in the final EIS, 18,857 acres in the Black Mesa Mine area would be added to the 44,073 acres already covered by the life-of-mine permit for the Kayenta Mine area. The permit expires in 2026, when the recoverable reserves will be exhausted.

Of the new acreage that would be added to the permit, some is mined out and being reclaimed. About 5,950 not mined yet in the Black Mesa area will be held in reserve.

The Mohave Generating Station, the sole customer for the Black Mesa Mine, has shut down with no plans to reopen. Peabody has said the mine is not needed for the Navajo Generating Station, which is supplied by the Kayenta Mine.

If Peabody finds a customer for the Black Mesa Mine, it would have to apply for a separate mining permit - including, possibly, another EIS.

However, the life-of-mine permit in hand will be a big obstacle already overcome, and Nuvamsa fears a second permit could be rushed through with little Hopi input.

The Black Mesa Mine has been operating under a provisional permit because of widespread Navajo and Hopi opposition to the use of thousands of acre-feet of fresh water for the Black Mesa Pipeline, at 273 miles, the longest slurry pipeline in the world.

One scenario mentioned in the EIS would be for Peabody to hold the new coal in reserve until the Kayenta mine is spent, then obtain a permit to continue supplying coal to the Navajo Generating Station beyond 2026.

In what Nuvamsa considers a worst-case scenario, the Mohave plant could reopen, necessitating the replacement of the pipeline.

That, in fact, is alternative A in the EIS, although it is now considered very unlikely as Mohave’s owners estimate it would cost over $1 billion to control conventional pollutants from the old plant, which do not include carbon – now a prime concern because of global warming.

Nuvamsa isn’t so sure that Mohave is dead.

“The country needs power, and anything could happen,” he said. He pointed out that alternative A was the preferred alternative in the draft EIS, when it looked hopeful that new owners could be found for Mohave.

Alternative C, which would be to do nothing, would be the best alternative for the Hopi tribe at this point, Nuvamsa said.

“Why are we rushing to get it done?” he asked. “There’s no customer, no plan, no intended outcome. The tribe should be looking at what we want to do with that coal. What about exporting? What about liquification for clean-burning fuels? Instead we’re fighting amongst ourselves and letting the crucial opportunity slip through out fingers.”



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html