Tag Archives: Dine’ Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment

8/29/2011 Asociated Press: Environmental review of Navajo mine moves forward

8/29/2011 Asociated Press: Environmental review of Navajo mine moves forward by SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN: ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal review of the potential environmental effects of expanding a coal mining operation on the Navajo reservation will continue uninterrupted after a panel of federal judges dismissed an appeal by the mine operator that tried to stop the assessment. Conservation groups hailed the decision from the three-judge panel with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The ruling prevents BHP Billiton from expanding its operation on tribal land in northwestern New Mexico while federal regulators re-assess the effects of the Navajo Minepermit on the environment and cultural and historic resources in the area. The mine covers thousands of acres and produces coal for the Four Corners Power Plant, one of the largest coal-fired generating stations in the U.S. The plant, operated by Arizona Public Service Co., provides electricity for customers in New Mexico, Arizona and other parts of the Southwest.

BHP Billiton said Monday it was reviewing the court’s decision and that operations were continuing in all areas except the parcel covered by the proposed expansion.

“BHP Billiton’s New Mexico coal operations have an overriding commitment to protect and care for the environment,” the company said in a statement, pointing to its reclamation work throughout the region.

Mike Eisenfeld of the group San Juan Citizens Alliance said the ruling affirms the responsibility of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement to “properly analyze the significant impacts” of mining on the parcel known as Area IV North.

The San Juan Citizens Alliance and Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment sued in 2007, claiming the agency violated federal laws when renewing the mine’s permit in 2004 and approving a revised permit in 2005.

They argue an environmental impact statement needs to be done before the revised permit can be approved. Such a review would require consultation with other federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages endangered species in the Four Corners region.

The groups’ lawsuit claimed the Office of Surface Mining did not provide adequate public notice and failed to fully analyze potential consequences as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The groups also complained the agency failed to assess the impacts of continuing to dump coal combustion waste from nearby power plants back into the mine.

In a ruling last October, U.S. District Judge John Kane of Colorado voided the approval of the 2005 permit. He requested that the Office of Surface Mining address potential environmental impacts and discuss mitigation measures, alternatives and possible conditions for approval of the permit.

Friday’s ruling stemmed from BHP Billiton’s appeal of Kane’s decision.

BHP Billiton has submitted a permit revision to mining regulators that includes Area IV North. Public meetings have been held on the application, but it’s unclear when the agency will issue a final decision on the permit.

Mike Eisenfeld
New Mexico Energy Coordinator
San Juan Citizens Alliance
108 North Behrend, Suite I
Farmington, New Mexico 87401
office 505 325-6724
cell 505 360-8994

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.