Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Thu, Oct. 28

Letter to the editor: Black Mesa Trust says there are ways to replace money lost by closure of NGS and Peabody

To the editor:

Why does Peabody Energy want to hang onto the coal leases with Hopi and Navajo Nations? This is my opinion.

In 1909, the U.S. Geological Survey gathered data on the Black Mesa coal field, estimating that it contained eight (8) billion short tons of recoverable coal.

Later the Arizona Bureau of Mines estimated that as much as 21 billion short tons of coal lay beneath Black Mesa. [Source: Summary of Cretaceous Stratigraphy and Coal Distribution, Black Mesa Basin, Arizona].

Hopi Tribe conducted its own study of coal underlying the Hopi Partitioned Lands (HPL) outside the coal lease area. The study concluded 1 to 1.5 billion tons of coal south of the existing Kayenta and Black Mesa Mine Complex.

This will meet Arizona’s coal usage for up to 100 years, not including the coal already leased for use at Navajo Generating Station (NGS). This opening of the coal reserves could meet the need of existing Arizona’s coal-fired plants for 100 years or more [Source: ICF International, consultant to the Hopi Tribe].

The amount of economically mineable coal in the Peabody lease area and outside is worth trillions of dollars. I suspect Peabody used its right to mine coal on Black Mesa to get out and stay out of bankruptcy.

Regrettably, the Hopi Tribal Council without the knowledge and approval from villages joined Peabody in a lawsuit to require Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) to keep buying power from NGS, thereby continuing the most destructive mining operation, which has been going on for 48 years.

The lawsuit, in my opinion, is futile, and a waste of tribal funds that is needed to run the Hopi Tribal and village governments.

Peabody has historically used the Hopi Tribe to get what it wants with consent from Office of Surface Mine (OSM), an agency under the Department of Interior, that has sole regulatory authority over Peabody mining. OSM has always treated Peabody like a special customer.

Trying to keep NGS and mining open will not be easy. Several things have to be done:

  1. NGS purchase agreement between a new owner or owners of NGS has to be done. So far, one company has expressed interest, but no firm commitment to purchase the generating station.
  2. If an agreement is reached, the new company will file an application with U.S. Department of Interior Secretary to operate NGS beyond 2019.
  3. The Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Study will begin. The public will be asked to participate in the scoping process to be determine what should be studied.
  4. At the end of the study, a decision to approve or not approve the application will be issued for public comment. If BMT and other non-government parties disagree with the decision, we will challenge the decision in Federal Administrative Court.

By the time all this is done, the coal lease between Peabody Energy and Hopi Tribe will expire five years from now. I’m certain Peabody will ask for a lease extension. A decision by Hopi Tribal Council to extend the coal lease will no longer be done without the approval of Hopi-Tewa independent villages.

Instead of spending time and money on frivolous lawsuits to please Peabody, NGS employees and Peabody mine workers, (no Hopi works at NGS and fewer than a dozen at the mine), the chairman should convene an economic summit. Invite the Hopi and Tewa Sinom to present their ideas on how the Hopi Tribe can achieve economic independence and end their dependence on Peabody, a company store that owns our soul.

Black Mesa Trust has publicly proposed two ways the Hopi Tribe can replace monies coming from Peabody and NGS, which is only less than $7 million per year.

Enact a Possessory and Business Activity Tax Ordinance. It will be a tax on outside companies profiting from doing business on our land. The Hopi owned businesses will be exempt.

Construction of a 20 plus megawatt Hopi Solar I on HPL that has been mined out and reclaimed. Potential buyers of electricity from Solar I include Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, Western Area Power Administration, Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service Co. and CAWCD.

If the Hopi Tribal Council approve construction of Hopi Solar I, the solar generating station can be delivering power in fewer than three years. It will give Hopi experience to construct future solar water projects, train Hopi workers to construct and manage the enterprise. It will end our dependence on coal, abuse of our drinking water and prevent further destruction of our ancestral villages and burial sites.

Vernon Masayesva, Kykotsmovi, Arizona

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