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,
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.
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
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
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
“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
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.”