Black Mesa Trust accuses OSM of unnecessary delay
Kykotsmovi — In what appears to be a move to ignore Black Mesa Trust’s comments on Peabody Energy’s revised mining plan for Black Mesa Mine and its application for a permanent permit for the mine submitted in January, the Office of Surface Mining has agreed to Peabody Energy’s request to postpone indefinitely the informal conferences on the matter that they promised to hold this summer.
“This is yet another totally unacceptable example of collusion between the government agency that is supposed to be overseeing mining and a private coal mining company,” said Vernon Masayesva, Executive Director of Black Mesa Trust in a July 8 statement.
“Peabody is obviously trying to sideline the Environmental Impact Study and Cumulative Hydrological Impact Assessment that OSM assured us would be conducted as part of its evaluation of Peabody’s application. The coal company does not want public scrutiny of their corporate practices nor does it want to respond to the many allegations, concerns and comments raised by Black Mesa Trust and its attorneys.”
Among those concerns is the 250 million gallons of water that Peabody impounds at the mine site each year.
“We must have a full and fair analysis of the cultural and environmental impacts of the Black Mesa Mine through a meaningful public participation process,” said Mr. Masayesva.
In a May 14 letter to OSM, Peabody said that they would amend their Jan. 19 Black Mesa Mine Permanent Program Permit and J-23 Mine Plan Revision, noting that the revised plan as originally submitted would have required an “extensive regulatory review process of up to two years.”
Public comments on the Jan. 19 plan were due on April 29, and Black Mesa Trust and its attorneys submitted detailed technical comments and questions as well as comments from farmers and residents living in the area affected by the mining. Most of the concerns focused on damage to the N-aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for the Hopi people and about 27,000 Navajos living on and near Black Mesa.
In the plan submitted in January, Peabody requested permission to increase its use of N-aquifer water to 5,700 acre feet a year—32 percent more water than the company is currently pumping out of the aquifer, primarily to slurry coal from Black Mesa to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada.
On May 14, just two weeks after Black Mesa Trust and its attorneys submitted comments on the plan, Peabody wrote to OSM stating that “Mohave participants [including the power plant’s major owner, Southern California Edison, the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation and Peabody itself] recently identified a secure source of water from the Lower Colorado River and have initiated an extensive engineering analysis for developing a new pipeline.”
They admitted, however, that “the feasibility and cost of the alternative is still being investigated” and that “the resources for constructing the water delivery system have not been committed.”
“The water issue on Black Mesa has been analyzed for 30 years, and still our washes and springs are dying, our people are buying water from the grocery store, and our farmers are seeing their crops fail,” said Masayesva.
“It could take months to complete this new analysis, and years to find the money and build the pipeline. In the meantime, Peabody will keep using our drinking water to mine and transport coal,” he continued.
Masayesva pointed out that for the last 10 years, Peabody, the United States government, and the tribes have been talking about a pipeline from Lake Powell to supply water for the slurry operation. “In fact,” he said, “government officials reported that bringing water from Lake Powell was legally and economically feasible, and the Navajo Tribe identified a source for that water in 1984. The Bureau of Land Reclamation agreed that the Navajo idea was workable and said that they would support it.”
He added, “Had the parties gotten serious about a pipeline back in the early 1990s we might not be talking about switching to another water source at the 11th hour. We are optimistic that the parties will solve this problem, but we can’t wait another 10 years, or even one year, while they argue about who is going to pay for the plumbing.”
“Where are our tribal leaders, our Chairman and our Tribal Council?” asked Leonard Selestewa, President of Black Mesa Trust. “The Hopi/Reliant power plant project was terminated because the Hopi people did not want it. Has the Tribal Council asked the people whether this new pipeline proposal is an acceptable plan?
“Now is the time for the Council to start to restore the faith of the Hopi people in its government. They need to consult with us before they agree to a plan that could mean that N-aquifer water will continue to be pumped for years to come,” he said.