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Biological Diversity Press Release

February 6, 2007 by  
Filed under Archives


CONTACT: Erik Ryberg, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 260-4157
Hamlet Paoletti, Natural Resources Defense Council, (310) 434-2300
Wahleah Johns, Black Mesa Water Coalition, (928) 863-1375

Groups Challenge Environmental Analysis of Controversial Black Mesa Mine:
Feds Failed to Consider Harmful Impacts to Sacred Springs

LOS ANGELES – Conservation groups submitted comments today to the
Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining on the controversial
Black Mesa coal-mining project. The Black Mesa project threatens
American Indian aquifers linked to the Hopi’s sacred springs because
it plans to use more than one billion gallons of scarce drinking water
every year to slurry coal to a power plant 273 miles away in Laughlin,

The Office of Surface Mining’s environmental impact statement, say
conservationists, fails to meet the most basic requirements of the
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The document fails to
analyze the environmental impacts of the massive water withdrawals
on Navajo and Hopi reservations, concluding that four decades of
water withdrawals have not harmed the Navajo aquifer and asserting
that another two decades would continue to have negligible impacts.
Springs flowing from the Navajo aquifer are sacred to both the Hopis
and Navajos in the area, but many have run dry since the Peabody
Coal Company began sucking up the water.

“This draft EIS marks the end of hydrology and the beginning of
mythology,” said Wahleah Johns, a Navajo citizen and community
organizer of the Black Mesa Water Coalition.
“It ignores over four
decades of hard facts and the eyes of thousands of our elders who
have witnessed our springs run dry.”

The government document is part of a proposal to revive one of the
largest coal strip mines in the U.S., shuttered last year when the
Office of Surface Mining shelved a controversial mining permit that
would have allowed unfettered access to the Navajo aquifer, which
feeds the Hopi’s sacred springs and waters their crops. The closure
came after years of protests about the mine’s environmental impacts
and had the effect of shutting down one the dirtiest coal-fired power
plants in the West. Last September, however, an owner of the power
plant, the Salt River Project, asked the government to renew
environmental review of the controversial permit until 2026. Despite
the obvious connection, the environmental impacts of the Mohave
Generating Station are not analyzed in the environmental impact

“The federal government is working hand in glove with powerful
interests to reopen a mine that would suck precious drinking water
right out from under the feet of thousands of people in dozens of
communities,” said Tim Grabiel, an environmental justice attorney
with NRDC and author of Drawdown: An Update, a report that last
year found use of the N-Aquifer for mining purposes clearly violated
the government’s own safety criteria.

The Black Mesa mine uses more than a billion gallons a year of pristine
groundwater from northern Arizona to pump coal slurry to the Mohave
Power Generating Station, 273 miles away. Springs flowing from the
Navajo aquifer are sacred to the Hopis in the area, but many have run
dry since Peabody began using the water.

“No community, no river, no fish need be wiped out forever to produce
electricity in the twenty-first century,” said Erik Ryberg, staff attorney
with the Center for Biological Diversity, “no matter how much Peabody
stands to pocket.”

The federal government must take a hard look at the environmental
and cultural impacts of these mining and power-plant operations and
explore less-polluting alternatives. The Office of Surface Mining cannot
ignore renewable energy as a viable alternative to re-opening Mohave.
“The Navajo, Hopi and others in Northern Arizona threatened by
climate chaos and drying wells deserve better,” said Andy Bessler of
the Sierra Club’s Tribal Partnership Program. “OSM fast-tracked this
plan without any consideration of the massive amounts of greenhouse
gases that Mohave would belch into the atmosphere every year.”

After identifying and analyzing in detail each of the many environmental
impact statement shortcomings, the conservationists requested that the
statement be re-drafted and re-circulated. The coalition includes the
Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council
(NRDC), the Black Mesa Water Coalition, and the Sierra Club.

# # #

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit
organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists
dedicated to protecting public health and the environment.
Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online
activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago,
Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

The Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) was established in 2001
by Navajo and Hopi young people and is dedicated to protecting
the health and sustainability of Mother Earth-her land, water,
plants, and all living beings. BMWC continues to represent and be
lead by Navajo and Hopi communities, leaders, and particularly the
young people. BMWC holds at the foundation of our work the well
being and sustainability of our future generations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national conservation
organization based in Tucson, Arizona with over 35,000 members
nationwide. The Center is dedicated to protecting endangered
species and wild places. More on the Center is available at

The Sierra Club is America’s oldest and largest grassroots
environmental organization founded in 1892. With over
750,00 members nationwide and with over 13,000 in
Arizona, the Sierra Club is inspired by nature while we
work together to protect our communities and the planet.
Find out more at www.sierraclub.org.


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