The Black Mesa region of Arizona, indigenous home of the Diné (Navajo) and Hopi peoples, is the location of the largest coal deposit in the United States, with approximately 21 billion tons of coal and a long-term value as high as $100 billion.
Peabody Western Coal Company began strip mining operations on Black Mesa in 1968, and until recently this was North America’s largest strip mining operation and site of the only operating long-distance coal slurrypipeline (owned by Southern Pacific). During its operation, the Black Mesa coal mine fed the Mohave Generating Station, a power plant in Laughlin, Nevada, via the 273 mile long pipeline.
Peabody pumped over a billion gallons of water from the Black Mesa aquifer each year to make the coal slurry, resulting in a substantial loss of groundwater in Black Mesa.
The second mine on Black Mesa is the Kayenta Mine, which supplies the Navajo Generating Station. The coal power generated from these two plants has powered Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and other areas on the southwestern power grid for three decades. Royalties and taxes from the mines provided approximately 80 percent of the Hopi general operating budget and 60 percent of the Navajo general fund budget.
In 2005, the Mohave Generating Station shut down as a result of a Clean Air Act lawsuit and because Navajo and Hopi tribes both passed resolutions ending Peabody’s use of the Black Mesa aquifer. According to the EPA, the coal plant was the dirtiest in the Western U.S., emitting up to 40,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per year.
The owners of Mohave chose to shut down the plant rather than upgrade it to acceptable pollution standards. Since the plant was the sole customer of the Black Mesa mine, and because Peabody did not have an alternative source of water, operation of the mine and slurry line ceased as well.
In addition to the impact of coal on the natural environment of Black Mesa, twelve thousand Navajos have been removed from their lands due to the mining, the largest removal of Native Americans since the 1880s. John McCain authored the relocation bill, called the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act.
In May 2006, the Office of Surface Mining released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Peabody’s plan to expand the Black Mesa coal mine. In addition to expanding the mine, the plan included the building of a coal-washing facility, use of the Coconino and Navajo Aquifer, and re-building the coal slurry-line to transport coal to the Mohave Generating Station. The recently re-activated DEIS has been changed such that the Black Mesa coal mine will supply coal to the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona and its permit will be merged with the Kayenta life-of-mine permit.
Read more about the Black Mesa Region at CoalSwarm. This article uses content from the CoalSwarm article “Black Mesa coal mine” on the SourceWatch wiki. The material is provided under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License 1.3.
New Mexico and Arizona Coal Mines by DocSearls. Photos were taken on a Boston to Los Angeles flight on August 19, 2008.
February 18, 2012
A group of five environmental organizations have filed an appeal that challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) decision to renew a permit for Ariz.’s Kayenta Mine operated by Peabody Coal Company. The group includes, To Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine C.A.R.E, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.
In January, OSM approved a five-year operating permit for the 40-year-old mine, which is located on two Native American Reservations, the Navajo and Hopi. OSM’s environmental assessment found no significant impact.
The group’s appeal argues OSM didn’t consider data and analysis that demonstrates declining of local water levels and quality from mining operations. The appeal also questions whether OSM followed environmental laws regarding adequate bonding for mine reclamation.
The mine supplies around 8.5 million tons of coal to the Navajo Generating Station in northeastern Arizona.
December 8, 2011
The EPA has announced that it plans next spring to release its decision about the pollution control mechanisms that it will require of the Navajo Generating Station, but that it expects that nobody will be happy with what it says and that the decision will end up in court. The NGS, a massive 2250MW power generator on the Navajo Reservation in NE Arizona, burns all the coal produced by the nearby Kayenta Coal Mine, and any decision on the plant will be tightly linked with the future of the mine.
NGS is one of three major power plants in the area, all of which have recently been reviewed by the EPA for compliance with the regional haze rule. The EPA already released the pollution controls for the Four Corners Power Plant and the San Juan Generating Station. Navajo’s draft ruling is expected out later this month.
Read article at http://www.daily-times.com/ci_19498335
December 2, 2011
At least 75 people staged a protest at the corporate offices of the Salt River Project in Tempe, AZ complaining of the environmental and health problems that result from coal mining at Peabody Energy’s Kayenta Mine and the burning of coal at SRP’s Navajo Generating Station. A letter from Black Mesa resident Louise Benally explained “coal mining has destroyed thousands of archeological sites and our only water source has been seriously compromised. Their operations are causing widespread respiratory problems, lung diseases, and other health impacts on humans, the environment, and all living things.”
SRP spokeswoman Patty Garcia-Likens said “we have worked diligently with Native American tribes for years throughout Arizona”, that 82% of NGS employees were Navajo tribal members, and that plant owners provide thousands of dollars in scholarships each year to the tribe.
September 23, 2011
Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) have requested the General Accounting Office release financial statistics about mining on Federal land, arguing that the information is crucial as Congress works on the budget and contemplates opening up new areas in the West for mining.
Rep. Grijalva says we already know that hard-rock mining, including uranium, pays no federal royalties. “How much has the taxpayer lost? How much is this land really worth? And what should be the parameters in the future in order to collect a fair return for the American taxpayer?”
August 5, 2011
A 1999 lawsuit between the Navajo Nation and Peabody Coal relating to coal mining at the Kayenta Mine on Black Mesa has been resolved with confidential terms. The Navajo Nation had claimed that it had been cheated out $600M of royalties as a result of a conspiracy between Peabody and others. All parties say they are glad to have the litigation behind them.
Peabody’s original mine lease was approved by the Navajo Nation in 1964, granting the tribe a royalty of 37.5 cents/ton (2% of gross proceeds). In 1984 when the lease was up for removal, the tribe sought 20% of gross proceeds which was supported by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. However Donald Hodel (Secretary of the Interior) blocked the rate increases and forced the tribe to accept a 12.5% royalty rate after secretly meeting ex parte with Peabody officials. In 1997, this action was found to be a breach of the duty of trust to the tribe.
February 16, 2011
An employee at Kayenta Mine was killed in a collision on Friday, February 11. Roy Black, a 55 year old employee with 30 years of experience, was driving his service truck when it collided with a tractor. A load of diesel fuel in his truck ignited and, in spite of the best efforts of emergency responders, the fire incinerated the cab of his truck.
November 17, 2010
It is often commented that renewable energy solutions such as solar or wind farms are diffuse energy solutions that occupy much larger swaths of land than non-renewable resources like coal-fired power plants. Clearly the land used by a coal-fired power plant itself is relatively small. But an analysis that includes the size of the mines providing the coal for those plants shows that the land-use impacts of renewable energy may be quite a bit less than for coal-based power.
The Black Cross Alliance, an activist movement designed to bring attention to the negative health effects of coal mining for the miners and surrounding environment, has arrived to the Black Mesa region with concerned residents and activists constructing black crosses in front of the Kayenta Mine. On land inside the Navajo Nation, Kayenta was named last year as one of the most dangerous mines in the country.
Coal mining and coal-fired electrical generation has brought an economic lifeline to the Navajo people, even as it has those industries have polluted their lands and air. Now, a new movement within the nation is calling for a change. Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
By Carol Berry, Today correspondent
Story Published: Jan 11, 2010
SALT LAKE CITY – A giant strip mine atop Black Mesa in northern Arizona will not be expanding under a permit it received more than a year ago from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
In a surprise announcement Jan. 7, an administrative law judge of the Department of the Interior vacated a life-of-mine permit OSM issued Dec. 22, 2008 that would have allowed Peabody Western Coal Co. to expand its permit area on Black Mesa, where more than 5,000 acres of coal remain unmined.
The judge’s order, citing legal shortcomings, was handed down on the eve of a planned visit by OSM officials to Hopi and Navajo tribal lands Jan. 11 to discuss OSM’s policies and Peabody’s mining proposals, according to those informed about the event.
“The (Black Mesa Project) Final EIS did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives, described the wrong affected environment baseline, and did not achieve the informed decision making and meaningful public comment required by NEPA.”
-Administrative Law Judge Robert G. Holt, Department of the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals
“OSM violated NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) by not preparing a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (EIS) when Peabody changed the proposed action,” said Judge Robert G. Holt, of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals.
Read more at Indian Country Today.
Principal changes in OSM’s “2011 Cumulative Hydrologic Impact Assessments for the Kayenta Mine”, 1989-2011. Published February 2012.
State by state survey of practices for bonding coal mines. Published July 8, 2010
Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Renewal of permit #AZ-0001D. Released September 14, 2011.
Renewal for mining operations for Kayenta Mine, Navajo County, Arizona. AZ-0001D
An investigation of the Solar Power Potential of Reclaimed areas of the Black Mesa Coal Mine. A report to the Black Mesa Water Coalition and To Nizhoni Ani.
Proposed agreement between the Navajo and Hopi nations and Navajo Generating Station (NGS) to settle water rights for the Little Colorado River System, the Lower Colorado River in Arizona, and the underlying Navajo Aquifer. In part, the proposed settlement secures NGS water for as long as it operates and indemnifies in perpetuity NGS from ground water pollution claims.
An analysis of water use and loss for the Arizona portion of the Upper Colorado River Basin for the year 2007. US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation. Published February 2009.
The February 12, 2004 Life of Mine Permit Revision application for the Black Mesa Coal Mine, submitted by Peabody Western Coal Company to the Office of Surface Mining. This is chapters 18 and above.
The February 12, 2004 Life of Mine Permit Revision application for the Black Mesa Coal Mine, submitted by Peabody Western Coal Company to the Office of Surface Mining. This is chapters 1-17.