Monthly Archives: July 2011

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Sierra Club: US EPA Comment period extended for critical Air Toxics & Mercury protection

The EPA has announced they are extending the public comment period for critical Air Toxics and Mercury protections by another month. Sierra Club volunteers have already sent in almost 100,000 comments but I guess the EPA wants more. Unfortunately, this gives corporate polluters more time to find crazy reasons why we shouldn’t have a rule that prevents 100,000 asthma attacks and saves 17,000 lives a year. Major polluters, like American Electric Power, are ginning up to scare the public with wild mistruths.1

Well, we’re not going to let them win this fight. We know that you’re aware of the dangerous effects of coal pollution, but many of your friends and family might not be.

Fight lies with truth. Forward our powerful new online coal quiz to five of your friends and family. Working together, we can invite thousands of new people to our fight for clean air.

Within just a few weeks of Sierra Club’s new online quiz, ‘Coal In Your Life,’ we have had tens of thousands of new visitors finding out how dangerous coal really is to their own health and their families’ health and getting involved in the fight to stop pollution. We won’t stand by while corporate polluters confuse the public!

Clean air to breathe and safe water to drink is in everyone’s best interest, except maybe wealthy corporate polluters. But Big Coal puts up ads every day attacking the EPA and our protections from pollution — please use our quiz to educate the public and cut through the smoke screen!

It is on all of us to build a bigger movement that can challenge Dirty Coal at every turn. Join the efforts by clicking here to get easy forwarding tools sent to your inbox and invite five of your friends and family to take part.

Thanks for all you do for the environment.
Mary Anne Hitt
Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Sierra Club

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7/28/2011 Science Daily: Scientists Report Dramatic Carbon Loss from Massive Arctic Wildfire

7/28/2011 Science Daily: Scientists Report Dramatic Carbon Loss from Massive Arctic WildfireIn a study published in this week’s issue of Nature, Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) senior scientist Gauis Shaver and his colleagues, including lead author Michelle Mack of the University of Florida, describe the dramatic impacts of a massive Arctic wildfire on carbon releases to the atmosphere. The 2007 blaze on the North Slope of the Alaska’s Brooks Mountain Range released 20 times more carbon to the atmosphere than what is annually lost from undisturbed tundra. As wildfires increase in frequency and size along Alaska’s North Slope, the team contends the disturbances may release large amounts of the greenhouse gas CO2 to the atmosphere and accelerate the transformation of the frozen, treeless tundra of today into a different kind of ecosystem less capable of storing carbon. Together, the impacts could have profound implications on atmospheric carbon and climate.

MBL Ecosystems Center scientist Chris Neill inspects burned tussocks at the Anaktuvuk River fire site, July 2008. (Credit: Jason Orfanon, MBL Logan Science Journalism Program)

Arctic tundra landscapes store huge amounts of carbon in cool, wet soils that are insulated by a layer of permanently frozen ground, or permafrost. Fire has been almost nonexistent in Alaska’s North Slope for thousands of years and the effect of fires on the carbon balance of tundra ecosystems is largely unknown. However, with warming temperatures over the past half-century, the climate in the region is in transition, spurring more thunderstorms, lightning, and wildfires.

In 2007 the Anaktuvuk River fire ravaged a 40-by-10 mile swath of tundra about 24 miles north of Toolik Field Station, where Shaver is the principal investigator of the NSF’s Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research project. The blaze was the largest ever recorded in the region.

While the Anaktuvuk River fire scorched only upper soil layers that are about 50 years old, it caused the release of more than two million metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. This amount is similar in magnitude to the annual carbon sink for the entire Arctic tundra biome averaged over the last quarter of the twentieth century. According to Shaver and his colleagues, an Arctic regularly disturbed by fire could mean massive releases of CO2 into the atmosphere, a decrease in carbon stocks on land, and a rapid impact on climate.

Shaver has been studying the Arctic tundra since the mid-1970s, and he knows how to look for gradual shifts in a landscape that is changing, but very slowly. Large disturbances such as fire — which leave the land open to rapid re-growth — have been rare. As the tundra rebounds from the Anaktuvuk River fire, Shaver and his colleagues are watching closely to see if the fire will nudge a major transformation of the North Slope groundcover that is already slowly underway.

More shrubs are expected to appear in the Arctic landscape as the climate warms, a trend that may be accelerated by the advent of fires. “Satellites tell us there has clearly been a greening of the Arctic over the past 30 years,” Shaver says. Many observations point to a warmer landscape that will be dominated by shrubs, rather than the grasses and mosses of today. Some scientists forecast that large parts of the Arctic tundra will eventually become forest. “A key question is whether the conditions on these burn sites are more favorable for the establishment of new seeds, new species,” Shaver says.

Moreover, the burn, because it is darker, absorbs more solar radiation than undisturbed land. “You have much higher rates of permafrost thawing, and depth of thaw, on the burn,” Shaver says. All of these immediate consequences of the Anaktuvuk River fire reinforce the effects of a warming climate on the Arctic tundra. And the scientists don’t yet know if the land can recover the carbon and energy balance of its pre-burn state, or if they are looking at a “new normal,” Shaver says.

This research was supported by the NSF Division of Environmental Biology, the Division of Biological Infrastructure, and Office of Polar Programs, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, and the Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service and Arctic Field Office.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Marine Biological Laboratory.

Journal Reference: Michelle C. Mack, M. Syndonia Bret-Harte, Teresa N. Hollingsworth, Randi R. Jandt, Edward A. G. Schuur, Gaius R. Shaver, David L. Verbyla. Carbon loss from an unprecedented Arctic tundra wildfire. Nature, 2011; 475 (7357): 489 DOI: 10.1038/nature10283

7/30/2011 NRDC Urgent: Tell your representative to remove a toxic polluter giveaway from a spending bil

7/30/2011 NRDC Urgent: Tell your representative to remove a toxic polluter giveaway from a spending bill: The House of Representatives is currently debating the funding bill for the Environmental Protection Agency and other environmental agencies for fiscal year 2012. In its present form, the bill would cause unprecedented damage to the environment and public health, not only through funding cuts but also via policy provisions that would prevent the government from safeguarding the public. These policy “riders” would not save the government one cent, but they would block protections for health, clean air and water, lands and wildlife.

One especially egregious rider would allow utilities and other polluters to continue spewing mercury, smog, soot and other toxic air pollution at current rates. The EPA intends to enact standards to reduce this pollution, which would save tens of thousands of lives and help reduce children’s exposure to mercury, a dangerous brain poison that especially affects developing fetuses, infants and toddlers. But the rider would prevent the EPA from acting.

Some members of Congress are standing up to this polluter-driven agenda. Rep. Capps (D-CA) has introduced an amendment to remove the polluter giveaway rider and allow the EPA to do its job to protect us from mercury and other toxic air pollution.

The House could vote on the Capps amendment as soon as tomorrow.

What to do
Send a message right away urging your representative to vote Yes for the Capps amendment to the Interior/EPA appropriations bill (H.R. 2584) and allow the EPA to protect us from dangerous power plant pollution.

7/29/2011 AP Washington Post: Lawsuit accuses 78 current and former Navajo Nation Council members of fraud in use of funds

7/29/2011 AP Washington Post: Lawsuit accuses 78 current and former Navajo Nation Council members of fraud in use of funds: WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — A special prosecutor filed a lawsuit against 78 current and former Navajo Nation Council members alleging massive fraud in their use of $36 million in discretionary funds intended for Navajos in need. The lawsuit filed Thursday accuses the council members of unlawfully taking about $36 million belonging to the deeply impoverished American Indian reservation from 2005 through 2010 to benefit themselves and their families. The council receives millions of dollars a year through supplemental budget appropriations to dole out to elderly Navajos on fixed incomes, college students, organizations in need or Navajos looking for emergency funding. Any member of the nation can seek financial help from a single lawmaker every six months.

The nation’s Supreme Court put on hold the discretionary until rules were established on how they could be doled out.

The civil case comes after all or nearly all of criminal cases against council members for alleged misuse of the money were dismissed. The lawsuit seeks the recovery of the money and accuses council members of ignoring their responsibility to keep tight controls over the nation’s money.

“These officials have divested themselves of their duties of honesty and transparency, choosing instead to perfect the art of self-dealing, ineptitude and secrecy,” said the lawsuit filed by special prosecutor Alan Balaran.

Tribal Council Speaker Johnny Naize, one of the lawmakers who was sued, said the lawsuit was a shoddy piece of legal work by the special prosecutor. “He is throwing darts again trying to see if any will stick,” Naize said.

David Jordan, an attorney who represented dozens of lawmakers in the criminal cases, said Balaran has billed the nation for $1.1 million for his investigation and came up empty handed.

Balaran didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit said that one sampling of the misspent money found that council members gave more than $2 million to 130 recipients with little regard over whether they were poor. The recipients received checks ranging from $10,000 to $54,000.

Another sample found that family members of 14 council members received $51,000 to $130,000. Additionally, millions of dollars went to Navajo Nation employees, even though they were ineligible to receive them, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said Joe Shirley Jr., the nation’s president from 2003 to 2011, sanctioned the passage of dozens of unlawful budget appropriations that resulted in the illegal conversion of tens of millions of dollars belonging to the nation.

Shirley approved resolutions which appropriated money to the discretionary fund and to a charitable contribution fund and which were falsely touted as emergency legislation, the lawsuit said.

The filing accuses Shirley of supporting appropriations knowing the money would be spent to enrich delegates, their families and other ineligible recipients.

“It’s outrageous that you could sue President Shirley for signing off on a budget,” said Jordan, who has advised Shirley on the investigation by the special prosecutor.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

7/29/2011 Gallup Independent: 'Brazzenness' Navajo officials charged with misusing millions

7/29/2011 Gallup Independent: ‘Brazzenness’ Navajo officials charged with misusing millions By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – A lawsuit charging current and former top-level officials of the Navajo Nation – including former President Joe Shirley Jr. – with breach of fiduciary responsibility was filed Thursday with Window Rock District Court by Special Prosecutor Alan L. Balaran. The complaint alleges the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state grant and contract funds and the associated loss or drastic curtailing of programs vital to children, the elderly, and the indigent. “I filed a complaint against almost every delegate – except for the three or four that settled – against the ex-president, against the current and former attorneys general, against the controller and against the speaker,” Balaran said late Thursday. He also requested that those still in office “be removed from their jobs, do a full accounting, give up their salaries for those times that they were stealing from the people, and return everything.”

Fifteen of the 16 delegates from the 21st Navajo Nation Council who are now part of the 22nd Council, including Speaker Johnny Naize, are being sued solely in their individual capacity as having acted outside the scope of their authority. Charges also were filed against former Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan, former Attorney General Louis Denetsosie, current Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, Controller Mark Grant, and John Does 1-50.

Last October, weeks before the General Election, criminal charges alleging conspiracy, fraud, theft, forgery and abuse of office – relating to how the Speaker’s Office managed its discretionary fund program – were filed against 78 delegates of the 21st Council. Balaran withdrew those earlier this year in anticipation of Thursday’s filing.

Each person charged “has a fiduciary duty to protect the Nation and to do everything in their best interest,” he said. “Clearly their actions were antagonist to those of the Nation and instead were simply selfish moves to further their own personal gain.”

According to Title 2, anyone who violates ethical rules can be incarcerated, forced to pay restitution, and removed from their job, he said.

President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim settled their cases earlier this year. Also not named in the new complaint are 22nd Council Delegate Roscoe Smith and 21st Council Delegates Jerry Bodie, Herman Daniels Sr. (deceased), Tom LaPahe (deceased), Lawrence Platero, and Harold Wauneka. Delegates not charged last year but whose names appear in the new complaint include LoRenzo Bates, Katherine Benally, Naize, Jonathan Nez and Leonard Tsosie.

Balaran alleges that the senior officials acted in concert and that the “brazenness” demonstrated by them demands not only monetary redress but the appointment of a Financial Receiver to assume the responsibilities of the controller, as well as the immediate removal and replacement of those delegates still occupying positions of authority.

Between 2005 and 2010, each delegate was given $250,000 in discretionary funds which they are alleged to have unlawfully appropriated to themselves, their families, friends, and other delegates and their families, “resulting in a total unlawful expenditure of tens of millions of dollars of the Navajo Nation.”

Balaran claims that those unlawful appropriations and expenditures by delegates could not have been carried out without the assistance of the other named defendants, “either acting in concert with the delegates or recklessly refusing to exercise their own powers to stop the delegates’ massive fraud upon the Navajo Nation.”

Supplemental appropriations were unlawfully approved by using two strategies, according to Balaran, including falsely casting the appropriations as “related to an emergency,” or by waiving all Navajo Nation laws which might have impeded the appropriations or expenditures.

Those charged Thursday include: Alice W. Benally, Amos F. Johnson, Andy R. Ayze, Benjamin Curley, Bobby Robbins Sr., Cecil Frank Eriacho, Charles Damon II, Curran Hannon, Danny Simpson, David B. Rico, David Shondee, David L. Tom, Davis Filfred, Edmund E. Yazzie, Edward V. Jim Sr., Elbert R. Wheeler, Elmer P. Begay, Elmer L. Milford, Ernest D. Yazzie Jr., Ervin M. Keeswood Sr., Evelyn Actothley, Francis Redhouse, George Apachito, George Arthur, Gloria Jean Todacheene, Harriett K. Becenti, Harry H. Clark, Harry Claw, Harry Hubbard, Harry J. Willeto, Harry Williams Sr., Herman R. Morris, Hope MacDonald Lone Tree, Hoskie Kee, Ida M. Nelson, Jack Colorado, Jerry Freddie, Joe M. Lee, Johnny Naize, Jonathan Nez, Katherine Benally, Kee Allen Begay Jr., Kee Yazzie Mann, Kenneth Maryboy, Larry Anderson Sr., Larry Noble, Lee Jack Sr., Lena Manheimer, Leonard Anthony, Leonard Chee, Leonard Teller, Leonard Tsosie, Leslie Dele, Lorenzo Bedonie, LoRenzo C. Bates, Lorenzo Curley, Mel R. Begay, Nelson BeGaye, Nelson Gorman Jr., Norman John II, Omer Begay Jr., Orlanda Smith-Hodge, Pete Ken Atcitty, Peterson B. Yazzie, Phillip Harrison Jr., Preston McCabe Sr., Ralph Bennett, Ray Berchman, Raymond Joe, Raymond Maxx, Roy B. Dempsey, Roy Laughter, Sampson Begay, Thomas Walker Jr., Tim Goodluck, Tommy Tsosie, Willie Begay, Willie Tracey Jr., Woody Lee, Young Jeff Tom, Louis Denetsosie, Harrison Tsosie, Joe Shirley Jr., Mark Grant, Lawrence T. Morgan, and John Does 1-50.

Grand Canyon Under Attack

Proposed bills in Congress would gut protections on 1 million acres of public lands around the Grand Canyon and halt a much-needed 20-year ban on new uranium mining. We’re not getting a break in our fight to stand up for wildlife, clean water, clean air and wildlands — a vote on the Grand Canyon rider, and other anti-environment riders, could come as early as midday tomorrow.

House Republicans, led by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., have introduced a radical, industry-driven legislative rider that, if passed, would block the Obama administration from imposing a long-term ban on new uranium mining across 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. We need to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Soon, a bi-partisan group of congresspersons is expected to introduce an amendment to kill the uranium rider. Grand Canyon’s future hangs in the balance.

We need your help: I’m asking you to consider an emergency gift to the Center for Biological Diversity’s Grand Canyon Defense Fund and to then call and email your congressperson and say NO to any proposal that risks Grand Canyon to destructive, poisonous new uranium development.

Without new protections — which the Obama administration is working to enact — new uranium mines will ruin iconic wildlands, put endangered species like the California condor and humpback chub in danger and risk irreversible contamination of aquifers feeding Grand Canyon’s biologically-rich springs and creeks.

For several years the Center has campaigned tirelessly to stop uranium mining near this national park. Now, Rep. Flake’s rider could destroy the progress the nation’s made to protect this incredible, biologically rich and diverse area.

This fight is so critical that a Center donor has pledged to match every dollar donated to this campaign 1-to-1 to double your gift and double your impact. Please give generously to the Grand Canyon Defense Fund today. Our staff will put it right to work.

We can win this fight, but we can’t do it without your financial support and your action to contact Congress and tell them to vote NO on any proposal that puts this national park in danger. Please, forward this email to your friends and social networks to help create a groundswell of support in this critical moment.

Thank you for standing up for the Grand Canyon and all its species,

Congress is trying to allow mining in the Grand Canyon: Call your member of Congress

We win and then Republicans in Congress try to move the goal posts. For years now, we’ve been fighting to stop a uranium mining project that would encompass over a million acres around the edges of Grand Canyon National Park. Mining waste would end up in the Colorado river, destroying the splendor that attracts families from all over the country, and contaminating the drinking water of the communities down river. Call Congress and tell them to stop the mining.

A few weeks ago, the Secretary of the Interior withdrew the claims in that area from bidding for the next 20 years. We saved the Grand Canyon. Now, Congress has attached a rider to a needed budget bill that would allow them to override the Secretary’s order and release this million acre tract in spite of its devastating consequences. We’re trying to remove the rider through an amendment being offered by Representative Pastor (D-AZ).

Call your Representative today and tell them to vote for the Pastor amendment to remove that rider.

We can’t let Congressional Republicans continue to rewrite the rules after we’ve already won. Call your Representative to stop the mining in the Grand Canyon.

Thank you for all you do for the environment.
Sarah Hodgdon Signature

7/26/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo looks to Utah on water settlement

7/26/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo looks to Utah on water settlement By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – The Navajo Nation is moving ahead on settling its water rights claims in the Upper Basin of Utah with or without the federal government’s participation, according to Stanley Pollack, assistant attorney general. During a recent presentation to the Nabiki’yati’ Committee, Pollack said Navajo has had very favorable discussions with the state of Utah, and currently is in the process of finalizing proposed legislation to introduce to Congress so it can approve the settlement and authorize the various drinking water projects associated with it.

“We do not have any federal participation in those discussions. We have asked repeatedly for the federal government to be involved,” Pollack said. “The federal government’s attitude is ‘We are doing all we can for the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona,’ so they’ve given short shrift to Utah. We are not deterred by that. We plan to move forward with or without the United States at this point.”

The Navajo Nation’s settlement of its claims to the San Juan River Basin, agreed to in 2005, is before the decree court in Aztec, which must rule by the end of 2013. The $1 billion settlement includes the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

The Nation also approved the $800 million Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement last November, which included three water projects for Navajo, but that settlement was deemed too expensive and has since been revised. The new plan is now being reviewed by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, and the Department of the Interior and could require further modification.

The Utah settlement would recognize a right for the Navajo Nation to deplete up to 81,500 acre-feet per year from the Upper Basin. “The Upper Basin in Utah includes all water supplies that the Navajo Nation has access to in Utah – Lake Powell, San Juan River, groundwater, etcetera,” Pollack said.

The settlement would recognize the right of the Navajo Nation to divert and store a maximum of 435 cubic feet per second, “so the upper theoretical limit for the water right is potentially as much as 314,851 acre-feet per year.”

Pollack said that when they know they have a settlement the Utah congressional delegation is willing to push through Congress, they will come back to Council and ask for approval of the terms.

Norman K. Johnson, who Pollack said is basically his counterpart in Utah, stated in March at a Utah Water Users Workshop that the state is close to an agreement with the Ute Tribe and is working with the Navajo Nation. Both settlements involve water from the Colorado River, and the settlement with Navajo calls for $156 million in projects.

One challenge for the Colorado River portion is “fish flows.” The Colorado River Basin is home to four endangered fish: the humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and bonytail chub. Johnson stated that Upper Basin states have chosen to be proactive and have implemented a recovery plan for Colorado River endangered species.

That plan gives Utah and three other states an opportunity to be full partners in recovery implementation and also means Utah could continue to develop its resources while recovery efforts proceed.

Adequate stream flow is critical to recovery of the endangered species, and the recovery plan seeks a balance between the needs of fish and water users, Johnson said. Noncompliance with the plan means both existing and future diversions may be in question and could be prohibited.

Given use projections, the “pinch point” for flow is Reach 3 on the Green River. While flow is generally sufficient, Johnson said that if the Lake Powell Pipeline water right is exercised as a Flaming Gorge storage right with a point of re-diversion at Lake Powell, then flows would be protective through Reach 3. However, it might require a “limited” modification to existing in-stream law.

Utah-based Blue Castle Holdings has proposed to build a two-unit nuclear power plant in Green River, Utah. The state water engineer at the Division of Water Rights is currently reviewing applications to allow the transfer of water rights for 29,600 acre feet of water per year from Kane County and 24,000 acre feet per year from San Juan County to Emery County, the location of the proposed plant.

The counties would lease their water rights to Blue Castle and use the funds to develop small surface water projects in their water conservancy districts, according to Grand Canyon Trust, which has joined HEAL Utah and other conservation organizations to voice concern to the state’s water engineer over the transfer of water rights to facilitate construction of the nuclear plant. Approximately 48 million gallons of water per day would be extracted from the river to cool the plant.

In 2009, Blue Castle signed a memorandum of understanding with Page Electric Utility, outlining the utility’s potential participation as an equity owner. The utility provides retail electricity services in Page and the surrounding area.

7/20/2011 For Immediate Release, July 20, 2011: New Report: Black Mesa Coal Mining Draining Region’s Water Supply

7/20/2011 For Immediate Release, July 20, 2011: New Report: Black Mesa Coal Mining Draining Region’s Water Supply: Flagstaff, AZ by Black Mesa Water Coalition * Dine CARE * To’ Nizhoni Ani * Center for Biological Diversity * Sierra Club: — A massive coal-mining facility on Black Mesa has a much more damaging effect to a vital local water supply, according to a new report released today. A hydrology study, prepared by Dr. Daniel Higgins (PhD in Arid Lands Resource Sciences from the University of Arizona) demonstrates that after four decades of coal mine groundwater withdrawals, minerelated impacts to the Navajo Aquifer (N-aquifer) far exceed those that have been acknowledged or recognized by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), the lead Regulatory Authority for Peabody Coal’s massive mining facility on Black Mesa. The N-aquifer is an important source of water below Black Mesa that feeds sacred springs and is used by thousands as drinking water.

“Despite what these models predicted years ago, I think any reasonable person who looks at the data would conclude that the rates of water level decline at Kayenta and spring discharge decline at Moenkopi are directly related to Peabody’s groundwater withdrawals,” said Higgins, who studies the interactions of complex social-ecological systems and spent more than five years investigating Black Mesa’s groundwater development – the focus of his dissertation research.

“This report reaffirms the fact that coal industry continues to materially damage our aquifer with impunity,” said Marshall Johnson of the Navajo grassroots organization, To’ Nizhoni Ani, or Beautiful Water Speaks. “The truth is that Peabody has yet to prove that the mine is not damaging the aquifer and OSM has yet to hold Peabody accountable. Instead of addressing the health of the aquifer, OSM works on creating new standards each time that have been exceeded so for us, it’s disappointing watching a federal agency deliberately sidestep its responsibilities.”

Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said, “OSM should not award Peabody a permit renewal until a thorough investigation is conducted on the findings of this report on the N-Aquifer.”

“Dr. Higgins’ report comes at a critical time while OSM is preparing an Environmental Assessment to analyze the impacts of the Kayenta Mine. OSM officials now need to address and respond to this report before they let Peabody off the hook for damage to the Navajo aquifer,” said Nicole Horseherder of To’ Nizhoni Ani and a Black Mesa resident where she depends on the N-Aquifer for her home and ranch. “The Obama Administration needs to restore environmental justice for local communities and hold Peabody accountable for damaging that most basic human right—the right to drink in perpetuity pure, clean water.”

“We have known for a long time that water withdrawals have been impacting local springs and wildlife but this report puts the burden on OSM to demonstrate to local communities why mine operations should be allowed to continue,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Higgins’ report was submitted by the OSM by Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine CARE, To’ Nizhoni Ani, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club as a supplement to comments previously submitted to the agency in 2010. OSM is preparing an Environmental Assessment that will be available for public review in August of 2011. The groups have asked OSM to hold a meeting within the next 30 days to discuss the report’s findings.

Daniel Higgins, PhD, 520-243-9450
Wahleah Johns, Black Mesa Water Coalition, 928-637-5281
Andy Bessler, Sierra Club, 928-774-6103
Anna Frazier, Dine CARE, 928-401-0382
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 928-310-6713

Review of Peabody Western Coal Company’s (1984-2004) Determination of Probable Hydrologic Consequences for the Black Mesa-Kayenta Coal Mine by Daniel Higgins. Ph.D.:


7/28/2011 Navajo Times: Report: Mining depleted N-Aquifer more than predicted

7/28/2011 Navajo Times: Report: Mining depleted N-Aquifer more than predicted By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau A newly released study of the springs around Peabody Western Coal Co.’s mining operations on Black Mesa concludes the company’s use of water for mining and slurrying coal depleted Navajo Aquifer storage by 21,000 to 53,000 acre-feet – more than 6,700 acre-feet over what the company’s consultants predicted. The study by Daniel Higgins, who holds a Ph.D. in arid lands resource science from the University of Arizona, also concludes Peabody’s predictions were based on a flawed model that was then used to inform both the Office of Surface Mining’s hydrologic impact assessment and a subsequent environmental impact statement for the mine – and that over the 15 years the Black Mesa Mine was in full production, nobody ever checked to make sure the aquifer was behaving as predicted.

Four environmental groups – Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, Tó Nizhóníçní, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity – are submitting the report to the OSM as part of their comments on an environmental assessment currently underway, and have asked OSM to hold a public hearing on Higgins’ findings.

Peabody, meanwhile, disputes the report.

“The issues raised by activists long opposed to mining are heavy on rhetoric and light on facts,” reads a statement released by the company in response to Higgins’ research. “The Navajo Aquifer is healthy and robust, and mining has not harmed any regional water supplies.”

Higgins said he’s letting his data speak for itself.

“I gathered all the studies that had to do with Black Mesa dating back to the 1940s, including the environmental impact statements and groundwater models,” he explained. “Then I evaluated the accuracy of the predictions in the environmental impact statements.”

Higgins checked the levels and flows for wells and springs about which predictions had been made and found that, in general, the water level decline Peabody attributed to mining withdrawals was underestimated and the water level decline attributed to municipal withdrawals were overestimated. Over the years, no one had checked to make sure the model was working.

“When in comes to environmental impact statements, whether it’s a new project or revisions to an existing one, once a decision has been made there is no requirement to validate the predictions in that impact statement,” Higgins said.

In the case of Kayenta, for example, the model predicted 85 to 87 percent of the decline in the level of the N-Aquifer under Kayenta would be due to drawdown from municipal wells – even though Peabody was pumping 4,085 acre-feet per year while Kayenta pumped 567.

Higgins found a strong correlation between the water level decline in Kayenta and the rate of Peabody withdrawals, but there was no statistically significant relationship between Kayenta’s municipal withdrawals and water level decline.

Higgins also found that, during the six months in 1985 when the Mohave Generating Station was idled for repairs and Peabody stopped pumping water to slurry coal to the station, the water level in many wells throughout the aquifer increased.

“I can’t say for certain that the mine was responsible for that,” he said, “but there was a pretty dramatic spike in many of the wells in the area.”

While the model predicted there would be no seepage between the lower-quality D-Aquifer and the N-Aquifer, the USGS did find some of the water sources became more contaminated with particulates, arsenic and other pollutants over the years the N-Aquifer was pumped, the report stated.

“Whether that is due to seepage is unclear,” Higgins said. “We know very little about the D-Aquifer.”

Perhaps the major problem with the predictions, according to Higgins, is that they were based on a water-budget model that the USGS intended as a learning tool, not a management tool.

“What water-budget modeling does is to treat water like a bank account,” Higgins explained. “As long as withdrawals don’t exceed deposits, then everything is thought to be sustainable.”

Reality, however, is more complex.

The water-budget approach assumes the climate and precipitation rates will stay the same, which they rarely do, Higgins said. It also assumes the water will be replaced fairly quickly.

“The USGS determined in 1997 that 90 percent of the water in the N-Aquifer is between 10,000 and 35,000 years old,” he said. “It’s fossil groundwater. It can’t be replenished on a human time scale.”

In its statement, however, Peabody begs to differ.

“Studies demonstrate that mining will use less than one-tenth of one percent of the volume of water stored in the aquifer over the life of the operations and that the aquifer will recharge rapidly,” the statement reads. “Current evaluation of the Black Mesa wellfield confirms the aquifer is recovering and reacting as modeling has forecast.”

Peabody added water from the N-Aquifer to ground coal to form a slurry that was piped to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., until 2005, when the power plant shut down.

The company currently uses 1,200 acre-feet per year for dust suppression and drinking water at its Kayenta Mine, for which it pays the Navajo and Hopi tribes $1.1 million annually, according to its statement.

The Kayenta Mine transports its output by rail to the Navajo Generating Station in Page.