Black Mesa Wins! Peabody’s Coal Mining Permit Revoked

by January 8, 2010

Peabody Coal's massive coal mine project, on the traditional lands of the Hopi and Dineh People in northeastern Arizona, was dealt another major blow this week by an administrative judge in Salt Lake City..

On January 5, 2010, Judge Robert G. Holt revoked Peabody's coal mining permit at Black Mesa, because the U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) failed to provide a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact statement (EIS) when it issued the permit in December 2008.

"As a result," Judge Holt states, "the Final EIS did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives to the new proposed action, described the wrong environmental baseline, and did not achieve the informed decision-making and meaningful public comment required by NEPA [National Environmental Protection Act]."

The permit was supposed to "guarantee" Peabody's operation until 2026, or "until the coal runs out." Now it's on hold----a welcomed turn of events in the decades-long struggle against the project, as Wahleah Johns, co-director of Black Mesa Water Coalition stated on January 8, 21010:

"As a community member of Black Mesa I am grateful for this decision. For 40 years our sacred homelands and people have borne the brunt of coal mining impacts, from relocation to depletion of our only drinking water source. This ruling is an important step towards restorative justice for Indigenous communities who have suffered at the hands of multinational companies like Peabody Energy. This decision is also precedent-setting for all other communities who struggle with the complexities of NEPA laws and OSM procedures in regards to environmental protection. However, we also cannot ignore the irreversible damage of coal mining industries continues on the land, water, air, people and all living things."

“This is a huge victory for the communities of Black Mesa impacted by coal mining and proof that Peabody can’t have its way on Black Mesa anymore,” adds Sierra Club’s Hertha Woody, also a member of the Navajo Nation. “Coal is a dirty, dangerous and outdated energy source that devastates communities, jeopardizes drinking water and destroys wildlife habitats. This decision is yet another example of why it no longer makes sense to burn coal to get electricity.”

Just a few weeks ago, the EPA issued its own decision and withdrew Peabody's water permit, after the Black Mesa Water Coalition, To’ Nizhoni Ani (“Beautiful Water Speaks”), Diné CARE and several other groups raised concerns the company was violating NEPA, as well as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

The diverse group of defenders, some of whom were recently blacklisted for being "a threat" to the Hopi and Navajo Nations, also alleged the EPA did not fully consider the environmental impacts of Peabody's waste ponds, and failed to provide opportunities for public involvement in their decision-making process.

"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 ... would have allowed Peabody to continue discharging heavy metals and toxic pollutants into washes, tributaries and groundwater relied on by communities," states the Sierra Club in a December Press Release.

Following the decision, Nicole Horseherder of To' Nizhoni Ani, who lives about 20 miles away from
Peabody's 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.”

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  • Teri Hitt
    January 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    This is great news. This is a good sign that the tide has turned finally. Now the EPA and Peabody Coal must take responsibility to clean up their mess in a way that is in harmony with the Hopi and Navajo effected by this. They must restore these lands.


  • January 8, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    good news once again indigenous people lead the way!


  • January 8, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    Of course they can't replenish the aquifer at Black Mesa any more than they can restore the streams in West Virginia, where Obama just pushed through another mountaintop removal project for his friends from Dirty Coal.


  • Billy Jack Douthwright
    January 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    the 'Science Daily' website just published a news article outlining a call made by 'leading American scientists' to place a moratorium on any new mountain top coal mining operations (!ya, it would seem obvious for scientific consistency's sake to also be placing the same moratorium on existing-current coal mining operations), and is good-great to see this level of agreement circulating & having increased influence.
    Cleaning-restoring the 'Black Mesa' environment... the water quality... I would also like to respond on this issue of who is responsible! Yes the multi-decade long impacts are a result of colonial intrusion, now internationally illegal and therefore illegal for all mining operations across Onowaregeh, yet, it is as it has always truthfully been the indigenous nations' responsibility to steward the land-environment, and that has not changed. It can be a positive development if 'American' agencies of various kinds (eg. EPA) can play a more responsible role, the positive there could lead to a sustainable future, but even so I am really just saying that the nations whose land is in the issue here need to rise up even further now to meet their/our responsibilities. This is the only way the natural environment will have any actual chance of being restored to an ecological balance... just don't forget that the seventh generation in already looking up to and expecting to be in full receipt of their entitlement when they arrive, that's... !!!!!!!


  • January 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Great news! Many thanks to Great Spirit! I first went to Black Mesa in 1982 and got involved right away with the cause of saving these sacred grounds from desecration. The most polluting industrial complex on Earth, with over 20 open pit coal ad uranium mines with refineries pumping all the watershed, as built in the center of the largest aboriginal land on the planet, the Hopi and Navajo reservations being larger than Belgium. In 1984 I published documents on the Big Mountain issue and started a support group and center in Montreal. On July 5th 1986, on the deadline fo the relocation of 14,000 Dineh(Navajos) from their homeland to open it to mining, I was with thousands of protesters in Washington DC, riding on the same Rainbow bus with the Hopi and Dineh elders during the march. In 1996 I tranlated in France the conferences of Robert Blackgoat, an elder and spokesperson for the Big Mountain DIneh elders. Over the years, I visited that area about 15 times. Now, to see that after all these efforts, the sacred grounds are being saved, is the greatest reward one can hope for. According to Hopi prophecy, the freeing of Black Mesa from destruction is a sign that the Great Purification by fire of the 4th world is at hand. Lolamai.


  • Tina May
    January 9, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    “The decision essentially sends the [environmental impact statement] process back to OSM for a do-over” said Nada Talayumptewa, chairwoman of the Hopi Tribal Council’s Water and Energy Team. “Mining will continue under the existing permit that covers the Kayenta mine and OSM will now have an opportunity to go back and re-visit the question of how mining operations at both the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines should be permitted in the future.”

    --Tina May
    Public Information Officer
    The Hopi Tribe


    • January 9, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      A small and relative victory, but it might be the first step to set in motion the restoration of the sacred lands. Hoping for a brighter future in Tuwanasavi. Peace and balance...

  • Audrey Berry
    January 24, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Wow! Thanks so much for posting this. I am a teacher in Rhode Island and I have my students read an article that was published "Orion" magazine years ago titled "Indian Lands Black Gold" that outlines this situation. I can't wait to share this update with my students!


  • Windtalker
    January 27, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I am very happy and relieved to see this news,i was very worried for that area if this would of continued.Great news for the people and mother earth!!


  • Victoria Mudd
    April 22, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Very good news indeed, but it makes the forced relocation of so many people - to make way for more mining - all the more tragic.


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