Environmentalists push back against Peabody's Kayenta

FIVE environmental groups including the Sierra Club have filed an appeal against a US Office of Surface Mining reclamation and enforcement decision to approve a five-year permit for Peabody Energy's Kayenta operation in Arizona.

Donna Schmidt
Environmentalists push back against Peabody's Kayenta

The producer did not issue a public statement on the groups’ move late last week but on behalf of its members To Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine CARE, and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club said the approval for the mine’s revised permit did not consider some environmental impacts of the property on the Navajo and Hopi reservations that feed the Navajo generating station.

“OSM revised a permit without considering data and analysis demonstrating how Peabody's pumping of the Navajo aquifer for coal mining operations is linked to declining water levels, springs and groundwater quality in Navajo communities,” the five groups said in their administrative appeal.

“OSM ignored these signs of material damage and changed the criteria that the agency has used for evaluating the mine's impact on Black Mesa's Navajo aquifer since 1989.”

The office’s environmental assessment found no significant impact from mining.

Black Mesa Water Coalition executive director Jihan Gearon said its filing would ensure Peabody was held accountable to federal environmental regulations and called on the OSM to “stop facilitating the destruction of our lands”

According to the Sierra Club, the Navajo aquifer near the Kayenta complex, which produces 8.5 million tons annually, is the primary source of drinking water to the reservation’s residents and has seen significant impacts through community health damage and the pollution of water resources.

“For OSM to just ignore this and say there are no significant impacts is a violation of their trust responsibility to our people," To Nizhoni Ani director Marshall Johnson said.

The groups said between 1969 and 2005, Peabody pumped more than 4000 acre-feet per year of water from the Navajo aquifer and it continued at a rate of about 1200 acre-feet today.

“OSM's permit allows Peabody to expand their operations into new areas that will force Navajo families to relocate, losing their ancestral homes for more coal development,” the five said.

Dine CARE member Anna Frazier said four families would need to move to make room for the expansion.

The environmentalists’ appeal claims the OSM failed to comply with several environmental laws and it has not kept Peabody from posting adequate reclamation bonds.

The organizations are being represented by Western Energy Justice Project attorney Brad Bartlett and Margot Pollans of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University.

The operations permit, which was approved in January, allows for continued mining and reclamation activities and expires on July 6, 2015.


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