Tag Archives: Office Of Surface Mining

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining- Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts By Emery Cowan local environmental group is one of five organizations suing the federal government over its approval of a proposed expansion of the coal mine that supplies the Four Corners Power Plant in northern New Mexico. The lawsuit, filed last week, challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s approval of a 714-acre expansion of the Navajo Coal Mine in northern New Mexico. The plaintiffs argue the federal agency did not evaluate the indirect and cumulative impacts of the mine expansion.

The extraction, combustion and waste disposal of the additional coal will cause the release of significant amounts of air and water pollution that will adversely affect the Four Corners and beyond, the lawsuit claims.

Coal ash disposal, dust accumulation, traffic and contamination of water sources are other potential environmental impacts, said Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The office of surface mining “put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant,” Eisenfeld said.

The approval “hides the true magnitude of the damage caused by coal mining and combustion in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change,” he said.

The groups argue the federal agency should pursue a more-detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of mine expansion.

Mine operator BHP Billington is willing to discuss with the environmental groups the cumulative environmental impacts, said Jac Fourie, president of BHP Billiton’s New Mexico Coal operations, according to news reports.

The 714-acre expansion is a scaled-down version of the company’s 2010 proposal to strip mine 3,800 acres on the same site.

A Colorado district judge ruled the Office of Surface Mining’s analysis of that proposal insufficient.

The current expansion proposal permits the company to extract 12.7 million tons of coal that will be burned at the Four Corners Power Plant.

“The two facilities are inextricably connected,” Eisenfeld said.

The mine needs the expansion permit to fulfill its contract with the power plant, he said.

The Four Corners Power Plant provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

It is the largest coal-fired power plant and the largest single source of nitrogen oxides in the country.

Recent regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that target toxic pollutants would reduce the plant’s emissions by 87 percent.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

11/7/2011 Forgotten People MEDIA RELEASE: Peabody Kayenta mine permit renewal – Dooda (No)

Forgotten People MEDIA RELEASE: Peabody Kayenta mine permit renewal – Dooda (No): Black Mesa, AZ-On November 3, 2011, Forgotten People through their attorney Mick Harrison, Esq. with assistance from GreenFire Consulting Group, LLC joined Black Mesa Water Coalition, Diné C.A.R.E., To Nizhoni Ani, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club in submitting comments to oppose the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) decision to approve a controversial mine permit renewal for Peabody Coal Company’s Kayenta mine.

OSM’s Environmental Assessment (EA) improperly discounts and ignores the substantial adverse impacts on the traditional Dine’ that result from Peabody’s mining activities including destruction of sacred sites and contamination of air and water and adverse health effects to humans and animals. Norris Nez (Hathalie) stated: “In Black Mesa area there were many key sites where offerings were given and Peabody has destroyed these sites. That is why the prayers or ceremonies that were conducted are lost. It is because the land is destroyed.” Glenna Begay stated: “To protect and preserve endangered historic, cultural and sacred sites in and adjacent to Peabody’s lease area, Forgotten People submitted ‘Homeland’, a GIS interactive mapping project that shows continuous occupancy since before the creation of the Navajo and Hopi Tribes and before the Long Walk to Fort Sumner in 1864.”

The EA does not address the severe impacts on the families to be (apparently forcibly and involuntarily) relocated. Glenna Begay stated: “How can the EA say the residents of the four occupied houses have not indicated that they have concerns about relocation and impacts on traditional cultural resources. Contrary to the EA some of the families who are to be relocated refuse. The families that objected to relocation should have been properly identified and quoted on their opposition in the EA.“ Norris Nez stated, “If more mining takes place, more people will be forced to relocate. Relocation is death to our people and our future.”

Experts have testified about relocation effects, like Dr. Thayer Scudder from Cal Tech University who says, relocation= death, i.e., that relocated people die. Yet there is no meaningful assessment in the EA of the real, huge and acknowledged effects of mining and subsequent relocation on the lives of the Forgotten People.

Peabody’s mining activities have contaminated the locally-owned water sources, and local water sources are capped, there is no water left to drink, and the Forgotten People are now dependent on the Peabody water supply. “The drinking water crisis is further exacerbated by the recent (September 2011) discovery of uranium and arsenic contaminated wells on the Hopi Partition Land (HPL),” stated Karyn Moskowitz, MBA of GreenFire Consulting Group, LLC.

John Benally, Big Mountain stated: “People living in the vicinity of Peabody do not have adequate water to drink, are hauling their water over great distances, and in some areas are drinking uranium and arsenic contaminated water. Peabody must return use of the wells that rely on the Navajo Aquifer to the Forgotten People so people within the western Navajo Nation do not have to drink contaminated water. Use of the Navajo Aquifer to support mining activities must stop.”

In the over 300 page EA, there is no mention of arsenic and no study of the impacts this contaminated water has had on residents and will have on the future of the Forgotten People. The discovery of these highly poisonous compounds in people’s drinking water should have immediately shut down any plans for continued mining in order to assess where the contamination is coming from and what the connection is between Peabody Coal’s mining and the discovery of this uranium and arsenic contamination. Yet the EA does not study the impact that this situation has on the Forgotten People. Clean water is a basic human right.

The EA mistakenly dismisses the removal of millions of tons of coal via surface mining as not significant in terms of minerals and geologic impacts including impacts on fossils. The EA also incorrectly dismisses the potential for material damage to the N aquifer from Peabody activities.

“The EA does not take the health and environmental threats from coal dust releases seriously and fails to assess or identify mitigation options for the significant adverse health effects reported by residents as a result of Peabody mining activities,” stated Christine Glaser, Ph.D. of GreenFire Consulting Group, LLC. The EA is defective because it does not include or recommend a real study of the cumulative, long-term health effects of this coal dust on the Forgotten People, including chronic illness and death from Black Lung disease.

Caroline Tohannie, Black Mesa stated: “The EA failed to address the real dangers of using an unpermitted railroad to transport coal from Kayenta mine to the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). Insufficient barrier arms and warning lights have already resulted in the death of people and livestock.”

Attorney Harrison stated: “The EA makes scientific conclusions contrary to prevailing science and contrary to the federal environmental agencies’ own stated positions and conclusions regarding climate change. The EA blatantly violates the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by considering only the climate change impacts of the Peabody mining alone without assessing the cumulative impacts of coal mining and of the burning of the Peabody coal in the NGS together with burning of other coal in other coal fired power plants. Coal mining and coal combustion collectively have significant adverse impacts on climate change. Given the severity of the harm currently threatened from climate change, a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), not just an EA, is required.”

On January 5, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Robert Holt issued an order vacating Office of Surface Mining’s (OSM’s) approval of Peabody Coal Company’s proposed permit modification for a life-of-mine permit for the Black Mesa complex based on violations of NEPA. The Judge also found OSM failed to develop and consider reasonable alternatives to the proposed action.

The current OSM Environmental Assessment, Finding Of No Significant Impact, and Kayenta Mine permit renewal decision involve the same type of NEPA violation involving failure to identify, develop, and assess reasonable alternatives. Only two alternatives were developed: the mine alternative and the no mine alternative. Other alternatives could have and should have been assessed including no mining combined with development of alternative energy facilities such as solar and wind.

The Forgotten People hope OSM will consider all the comments received and make the right decision, which would be to deny renewal of the Kayenta Mine permit. Peabody Dooda (No). For further information, please contact Attorney Mick Harrison at (812) 361-6220 or Forgotten People at (928) 401-1777.

-End-

10/13/2011 Navajo Times: Sierra Club blasts feds for 'rubber-stamping' mine permits

10/13/2011 Navajo Times: Sierra Club blasts feds for ‘rubber-stamping’ mine permits By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau: A Sierra Club spokesman Tuesday blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Surface Mining for “rubber-stamping” two permits for Peabody Western Coal Co.’s Kayenta Mine, saying they had not seriously considered the impacts on the environment and the community. The US EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board this week finalized a water discharge permit for the mine over the objections of the Sierra Club, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, which claimed in an appeal that wastewater from the mine contains heavy metals that could end up in drinking and irrigation water.

EPA Water Permits Manager Dave Smith said the appellants did not present any evidence that the mine’s treated storm runoff, which is discharged into washes, is a threat to drinking water supplies.

The appellants are considering an appeal to U.S. Circuit Court.

And last month, OSM issued a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, in renewing the company’s permit to continue mining at its Kayenta operation through 2015, meaning there is no need for a new environmental impact statement.

Public comment on the FONSI is being accepted through Oct. 22 and is supposed to be incorporated into the agency’s final record of decision on the permit.

Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club called the FONSI “administratively incomplete,” saying it is unsigned and does not include Peabody’s groundwater reclamation bond or hydrology reports.

The FONSI calls the mine’s impacts on the Navajo Aquifer water “negligible to minor,” and states “the N Aquifer drinking water use designation remains uncompromised.”

Bessler said OSM has ignored a recent report by University of Arizona scientist Daniel Higgins which contains data showing the mine’s use of water impacts some of the water sources around Black Mesa, where it is located.

The FONSI also finds no significant impact on local residents, despite the fact that four households would be displaced by new mining.

“Relocated residents are compensated for the replacement of all structures and for lost grazing acreage if the resident can establish a customary use area claim,” the agency reasoned.

“Ask them (the residents) if that’s significant,” Bessler retorted.

9/19/2011 Gallup Independent: Peabody seeks permit renewal for Kayenta Mine

9/19/2011 Gallup Independent: Peabody seeks permit renewal for Kayenta Mine By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – Peabody Western Coal Co. has filed an application with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to renew its permit for mining operations at Kayenta Mine through July 5, 2015. Peabody submitted an application to OSM to renew the permit in February 2010, and proposes to continue mining in coal resource areas N-9, J-19, and J-21 from July 6, 2010, through July 5, 2015. The proposed permit renewal does not include any revisions to the mining and operations plan or the addition of any new mining areas.

“The Kayenta Mine is moving through a routine five-year permit renewal process covering the mine plan, land restoration plan and other activities related to ongoing operations, which is consistent with current operations,” Beth Sutton, director of Corporate Communications for Peabody Energy, said.

OSM has prepared an environmental assessment to evaluate environmental effects from the permit renewal. Comments must be submitted by Oct. 22 to be considered.

The Kayenta Mine permit area is located on approximately 44,073 acres of land leased from the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. Peabody holds leases to mine up to 670 million tons of coal from reserves within the permit area. As of July 2010, 20,851 acres within the permit area had been disturbed.

Mining activities within the lease area would result in a moderate, short-term impact, according to OSM and would disturb 1,159 acres of land used for grazing and traditional land uses. However, the federal agency said reclamation of the disturbed areas would improve the productivity and quality of grazing lands.

“The mine has a record of good environmental compliance, and typically returns mined lands to a condition that is as much as 20 times more productive for rangeland than native areas,” Sutton said.

Within the J-21 coal resource area, four of the 83 occupied houses within the Kayenta Mine permit area would be relocated. Residents would be compensated for the replacement of all structures and for lost grazing acreage if they can establish a customary use area claim.

According to the Finding of No Significant Impact, Peabody has committed to replace three windmill wells that have or would be removed by mining. Any other water supply that could be adversely impacted by mining during the five-year permit term would be replaced.

Annual groundwater use for domestic and mine-related purposes from the Navajo aquifer would average 1,236 acre-feet per year, or 70 percent less than was used prior to 2006 when the coal slurry pipeline was operating.

Water quantity use impacts to the N-aquifer are expected to be negligible to minor, and no endangered or threatened species are expected to be directly affected because there is no predicted decrease of flows in seeps and springs associated with the N-aquifer, OSM said. Pumping has been primarily occurring within the confined part of the N-aquifer, and the agency said water levels are rising or are predicted to rise because less groundwater is being used since the coal slurry pipeline was discontinued.

The number of people employed at the Kayenta Mine will increase from 422 in 2010 to 432 in 2015. The average annual revenue paid to the tribes from 2005-2009 was $43.2 million, plus an additional average annual payment of $6.2 million to Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and scholarship funds, according to OSM. These revenues are expected to continue.

“Kayenta Mine is a powerful economic force in the region creating 400 jobs and nearly $370 million in direct and indirect economic benefits for regional communities,” Sutton said. “We look forward to an efficient and timely review as part of the customary stakeholder process.”

Kayenta Mine ships approximately 8 million tons of coal annually to Navajo Generating Station.

Information: http://www.wrcc.osmre.gov/Current_Initiatives/Kayenta_Mine/Renewal.shtm or (303) 293-5035. E-mail comments to kayentarenewalea@osmre.gov

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.
http://www.chron.com/news/article/Environmental-review-of-Navajo-mine-moves-forward-2146516.php

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
meisenfeld@frontier.net

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.

Contacts:
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.: http://db.tt/qlKW0KN

###

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.

7/21/2011 Navajos: Peabody Coal Mine Draining Region's Water Supply

7/21/2011 CENSORED NEWS BLOG: Navajos: New Report: Peabody Coal Mine Draining Region’s Water Supply By Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine’ CARE, To’ Nizhoni Ani, Center for Biologial Diversity and Sierra Club Photo by Leslie Mano Cockrum: FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — 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) program demonstrates that after four decades of coal mine groundwater withdrawals, mine-related 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.

Contacts: 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