Groups challenge EIS

By Kathy Helms
Diné Bureau
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 for comment.

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 allege.

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 devices.

"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 operational status.

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," Grabiel said.

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."




Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.