For Immediate Release, December 3, 2009
Contact: Wahleah Johns, Black Mesa Water Coalition, (928) 213-5909
Anna Frazier, Dine CARE, (928) 380-7697
Andy Bessler, Sierra Club, (928) 774-6103
Nicole Horseherder, TO’ Nizhoni Ani, (928) 675-1851
Brad Bartlett, Energy Minerals Law Center, (970) 247-9334
Amy Atwood, Center for Biological Diversity, (541) 914-8372
Pollution Permit for Peabody's Black Mesa Coal Mine Withdrawn by EPA
Following Appeal by Tribal and Conservation Groups
BLACK MESA, Ariz.— In response to an appeal brought by a diverse coalition of tribal and environmental groups, this week the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew a controversial water permit for the massive Black Mesa Coal Complex, a coal-mine complex located on Navajo Nation and Hopi lands in northeastern Arizona. EPA’s permit withdrawal means that discharges of heavy metal and pollutants – including selenium, nitrates, and other heavy metals and toxic pollutants from coal-mining operations at the Black Mesa Complex – are threatening washes, tributaries, groundwater, and the drinking water for local communities, but are not being regulated.
“EPA is to be commended for doing the right thing in this instance and withdrawing the inadequate water permit for Black Mesa,” said Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “Our community was shut out of the permitting process and our requests for public hearings on the permit denied. If a new permit is issued, the agency must ensure that impacted communities are meaningfully involved in environmental decision-making.”
The coalition’s appeal of Peabody’s permit cited violations of the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Endangered Species Act, in addition to asserting that the EPA failed to adequately analyze the environmental impacts of leaky waste ponds and failed to provide local residents with adequate opportunities for public participation.
“EPA’s recent Notice of Withdrawal of Permit is further evidence of Peabody Coal Company’s illegal coal mining operation on Black Mesa that is not only destroying the land which is the living flesh of our Mother Earth but is now polluting – with an expired discharge permit – the region’s natural water system which are, in real physical and spiritual terms, the lifeblood and veins of our female mountain,” said Anna Frazier of Dine CARE.
The Black Mesa Mine Complex has a history of controversy stemming from concerns about air and water pollution, impacts to local people, the drying of aquifers and springs and coal pollution’s contribution to global warming. Heavy metals and pollutants that result from mining operations are toxic to humans and harmful to wildlife. Excessive selenium can damage the nervous system and harm livestock, and acid mine drainage can seep into waterways and aquifers, with consequences for ecological and human health.
Nicole Horseherder of TO' Nizhoni Ani (Navajo for Beautiful Water Speaks), who lives 20 miles south of the Black Mesa Complex, said: “I am very happy about the EPA’s decision to withdraw the permit. I am glad to see a federal regulatory agency finally doing its job. In the course of our struggle to protect the water and bring awareness to the impacts of this coal-mining operation, we have never had such a favorable decision by any agency charged with regulating the impacts of Black Mesa.”
For three and a half decades, Peabody’s coal-mining operations on Black Mesa have been dependent on the sole source of drinking water for Navajo and Hopi communities. Between 1969 and 2005, Peabody pumped an average of 4,600 acre-feet of water annually from the Navajo Aquifer, causing significant damage to Navajo and Hopi community water supplies. The permit withdrawn this week would have allowed Peabody’s to continue discharging heavy metals and toxic pollutants into washes, tributaries and groundwater relied on by communities.
“The indigenous peoples of Black Mesa know that water is life and environmental justice has been served by EPA’s decision,” said Hertha Woody, a local Sierra Club leader and member of the Navajo Nation. “No one should have to question the quality of their life-giving waters. It is good to know that more will be done by EPA to protect these waters in the future.”
“As a result of EPA’s permit withdrawal, Peabody will be under increased pressure to comply with the Clean Water Act – especially if it continues discharging heavy metals and pollutants into tribal waters,” said Atwood, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who worked on the appeal. “Our coalition will continue to evaluate EPA’s response and enforcement of our Nation’s laws protecting water.”
The diverse coalition of organizations involved in this effort include the Black Mesa Water Coalition, TO’ Nizhoni Ani, Dine CARE, Dine Hataalii Association, Inc., Dine Alliance, C-Aquifer for Dine, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club. The organizations were represented in the appeal by Brad Bartlett of the Energy Minerals Law Center in Durango, Colorado and Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Black Mesa mine closed in 2005 after the utility company owners, led by Southern California Edison, could not reach agreement with the Navajo and Hopi tribes on coal supplies and an alternative to pumping groundwater from the Navajo aquifer to feed the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada. When the Office of Surface Mining issued a permit to Peabody to resume mining operations, neither it nor Peabody identified a new purchaser of coal from the mine. In addition, federal agencies’ analysis of the permit failed to adequately consider the impacts of global warming on endangered fish in the Colorado River.
By contributing to global warming-related droughts and pumping groundwater from the Navajo aquifer, permitted mining would exacerbate the effects of more than 30 years of Peabody’s groundwater depletion that has drained billions of gallons of water from aquifers. Peabody’s pumping has depleted wells and decreased surface flows in area springs and creeks upon which residents and wildlife depend. Despite evidence of continuing aquifer deterioration, the Office of Surface Mining and Peabody are seeking to continue extracting 1,236 acre-feet of groundwater from the Navajo Aquifer for mining operations throughout the permit period ending 2025.
In February, the same groups that joined in this effort also appealed a “Life of Mine” permit that authorizes mining operations at Black Mesa into the year 2025 for an estimated 670 million tons of coal. That appeal is still pending.
For more background information please visit: www.blackmesawatercoalition.org.
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