TO NIZHONI VALLEY, Ariz. - A group of five organizations, To Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine CARE, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed an appeal last week that challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's (OSM) decision to renew a permit for Peabody Coal Company's Kayenta Mine.
The appeal charges that OSM revised a permit without considering data and analysis demonstrating how Peabody's pumping of the Navajo Aquifer for coal mining operations is linked to declining water levels, springs and groundwater quality in Navajo communities. The appeal also charges that OSM ignored these signs of material damage and changed the criteria that the agency has used for evaluating the mine's impact on Black Mesa's Navajo Aquifer since 1989.
"With this appeal we are ensuring that Peabody is held accountable to the federal laws that protect our communities, environment, water, sacred places and cultural resources," said Jihan Gearon of Black Mesa Water Coalition. "It's time for OSM to stop facilitating the destruction of our lands and instead support us in holding the corporations who operate on our lands accountable."
The Navajo Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water to thousands of Navajo and Hopi residents and has a central role in each tribe's cultural practices. For nearly 40 years Peabody has mined the Kayenta Mine, which has supplied approximately 8.5 million tons of coal annually to the Navajo Generating Station in northeastern Arizona.
"Drinking water wells in our community have declined over 100 feet. Sinkholes and cracks near Forest Lakes have occurred where the surface is subsiding. Water quality has deteriorated and our sacred springs are disappearing. For OSM to just ignore this and say there are no significant impacts is a violation of their trust responsibility to our people," said Marshall Johnson of To Nizhoni Ani.
The appeal also argues that OSM failed to comply with several environmental laws and has not kept Peabody from posting adequate bonds to help pay for reclamation of the mine areas.
"Peabody has gotten another rubber stamp from OSM and local residents' health and homes have been sacrificed in the name of cheap coal. OSM must do better a better job to protect the communities of Black Mesa," states Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club. The organizations are represented on appeal by attorney Brad Bartlett of the Western Energy Justice Project and Margot Pollans of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University.