BLACK MESA, Ariz. Jan. 8, 2010 - Peabody Western Coal Company's Black Mesa Coal Complex has suffered a major setback as an administrative law judge for the U.S. Department of the Interior vacated a permit for the massive coal-mining complex. The judge vacated the permit in response to one of several appeals filed by Navajo and Hopi residents as well as a diverse coalition of tribal and environmental groups. The permit, issued by Interior's Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, allowed Peabody to operate and expand the Black Mesa mine and the Kayenta mine under a single permit.
Said Wahleah Johns, co-director of Black Mesa Water Coalition and one of the petitioners in the appeal: "As a community member of Black Mesa I am grateful for this decision. For 40 years our sacred homelands and people have borne the brunt of coal-mining impacts, from relocation to depletion of our only drinking-water source. This ruling is an important step toward restorative justice for indigenous communities who have suffered at the hands of multinational companies like Peabody Energy. This decision is also precedent-setting for all other communities who struggle with the complexities of NEPA laws and OSM procedures in regards to environmental protection. However, we also cannot ignore the irreversible damage of coal mining industries continues on the land, water, air, people and all living things."
The administrative law judge's order decides issues raised by members of the Hopi Nation in one of many appeals brought in response to the Office of Surface Mining's final permit, which was issued in the waning days of the Bush administration. The "life of mine" permit issued by the agency authorized and expanded mining operations at Black Mesa beyond the year 2026 for the remaining portion of an estimated total of 670 million tons of coal. The order cited violations of the National Environmental Policy Act.
"This is a huge victory for the communities of Black Mesa impacted by coal mining and proof that Peabody can't have its way on Black Mesa anymore," said Sierra Club's Hertha Woody, also a member of the Navajo Nation. "Coal is a dirty, dangerous and outdated energy source that devastates communities, jeopardizes drinking water and destroys wildlife habitats. This decision is yet another example of why it no longer makes sense to burn coal to get electricity."
The Black Mesa Coal Mine Complex has a long history of controversy stemming from concerns about air and water pollution, impacts to local residents, the drying of aquifers and sacred springs, and coal's contribution to global warming. Heavy metals and pollutants that result from mining operations are toxic to humans and harmful to wildlife.
"This is a vindication of what we have been saying for years," said Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity. "As a result of this huge victory, business as usual at Black Mesa has come to an end and a transition toward a green-energy economy in the Four Corners region can truly begin."
"It is good news that our concerns were heard. Water is very precious that should not be used for coal mining but instead should be used for our people. I am pleased with this outcome," said Calvin Johnson of the grassroots organization C-Aquifer for Dine'.
The coalition of tribal and environmental groups who filed a related appeal of the permit included the Black Mesa Water Coalition, Diné C.A.R.E., Dine Hataalii Association, Inc., To Nizhoni Ani, C-Aquifer for Diné, Diné Alliance, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Legal representation in the appeal was given by the Energy Minerals Law Center attorneys Brad Bartlett and Travis Stills and Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
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