By Kathy Helms
Gallup Independent, Feb. 9, 2007
WINDOW ROCK — National
and tribal environmental watchdog groups have asked
the Office of Surface Mining to redraft the Black Mesa
Project draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Citing a number of shortcomings, including
an allegation that the Draft EIS fails to meet the most
basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy
Act of 1969, the Natural Resources Defense Council,
the Black Mesa Water Coalition, the Sierra Club and
the Center for Biological Diversity have asked OSM to
address their concerns and then recirculate the document
The groups say the EIS failed to analyze
the environmental impacts of massive water withdrawals
on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, concluding that
four decades of water withdrawals have not harmed the
Navajo aquifer to date and asserting that another two
decades would have negligible impacts.
Springs flowing from the N-aquifer are
sacred to Navajo and Hopi residing in the area, but
many of those springs have run dry since Peabody Western
Coal Co. began operations at Black Mesa, the groups
The Black Mesa mining operation is the
sole coal supplier for the Mohave Generating Station
in Laughlin, Nev., and Mohave Generating Station is
its sole customer.
Salt River Project, a 20 percent owner
of Mohave, announced Tuesday that it was ending efforts
to return the plant to service. Tuesday also was the
deadline for comments on the draft EIS.
After failing to reach a purchase agreement
with majority owner and operator, Southern California
Edison, SRP determined there was not enough time to
make it economically feasible to bring Mohave back into
service with the environmental emission controls required
by a 1999 consent decree.
The decree was issued following a 1998
complaint filed by Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club,
and the National Parks & Conservation Association
Inc. over Mohave's emissions. It gave Mohave owners
six years to install the necessary pollution-control
"The federal government must take
a hard look at the environmental and cultural impacts
of these mining and power-plant operations, and explore
less-polluting alternatives," according to Andy
Bessler of the Sierra Clubs Tribal Partnership Program.
OSM cannot ignore renewable energy as
a viable alternative to reopening the Mohave Generating
Station, the groups said. The coal-fired plant closed
Dec. 31, 2005.
The Navajo, Hopi and others in Northern
Arizona threatened by climate chaos and drying wells
deserve better, said Bessler. "OSM fast-tracked
this plan without any consideration of the massive amounts
of greenhouse gases that Mohave would belch into the
atmosphere every year."
The Grand Canyon Trust challenged the
Black Mesa EIS in separate comments to OSM, saying it
believes that the Statement of Purpose and Need should
explicitly address and account for Mohave's suspended
The Trust also contends that the statement
should acknowledge "the contingent nature of a
Mohave restart," saying three of Mohave's four
owners have announced they would not continue to resume
operation of the power plant.
"There is no indication that a
new group of partners has formed or is prepared to invest
more than a billion dollars needed to reopen the plant,
and the DEIS should inform the public and decision makers
of this state of affairs when describing the purpose
of and need for the Black Mesa Project," the Trust
said in its comments to OSM.
Restoration would cost about $1.1 billion
including $500,000 for pollution-reduction equipment.
Wahleah Johns, a Navajo citizen and
community organizer of the Black Mesa Water Coalition,
said, "This draft EIS marks the end of hydrology
and the beginning of mythology."
This EIS ignores over four decades of
hard facts and the eyes of thousands of our elders who
have witnessed our springs run dry, she said.
The Mohave closure came after years
of protests about the mines environmental impacts, "and
had the effect of shuttering one of the dirtiest coal-fired
power plants in the West," the groups said.
Tim Grabiel, an environmental justice
attorney with NRDC, authored "Drawdown: An Update,"
a report issued last year that found use of the N-aquifer
for mining purposes clearly violated the governments
own safety criteria.
"The federal government is working
hand-in-glove with powerful interests to reopen a mine
that would suck precious drinking water right out from
under the feet of thousands of people in dozens of communities,"
No community, no river, no fish
need be wiped out forever to produce electricity in
the 21st century, said Erik Ryberg, staff attorney at
the Center for Biological Diversity, "no matter
how much Peabody stands to pocket."