Dec. 14, 2008
West Virginia Citizens join with Navajo & Hopi Tribal Leaders and Community Members to Protest Office of Surface Mining
Special to
From Black Mesa Water Coalition
Charleston, WV and Denver, CO (HNN) – Citizens in West Virginia and the Navajo and Hopi in Arizona and New Mexico have more in common than they once thought. Both areas are dealing with loss of water, land and cultural resources as a result of surface mining, and both are frustrated with the systemic lack of enforcement and lack of citizen involvement from the federal government.
"When we met with folks from the Navajo community out west, we realized we are having the same problems," said Vernon Haltom of Coal River Mountain Watch. "They are struggling with bad water, loss of culture and heritage, and systemic apathy from government agencies."
The issue these groups are responding to is a rushed "midnight regulation" from the Department of the Interior may be issued in favor of Peabody Coal, and the affected Navajo and Hopi people of Black Mesa are trying to stop it. A large delegation has traveled to Denver to meet with top officials in the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and hold a press conference and rally in downtown Denver to protest the pending decision, which will grant the coal company a "life-of-mine" permit, expanded mining operations and rights to tap the fresh water of the Navajo aquifer.
Supporters from West Virginia met with the Office of Surface Mining , 1027 Virginia St. E., Monday, Dec. 8. Concern West Virginians can still contact Dana Kuhnline (304) 546-8473.
Navajo and Hopi citizen's were given 45 days to comment on a revised "Black Mesa Project" Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and were never offered a public commenting period. Requests for commenting period extensions were denied by OSM as well as requests for OSM to come to Navajo and Hopi lands for question and answer meetings.
Arizona Congressman, and leading candidate for Secretary of Interior in the Obama Administration, Raúl M. Grijalva has asked current Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne to suspend further consideration of Peabody's permit. "At present, OSM is rushing to approve a life-of-mine permit, first without making the permit revisions sufficiently available for public review, and then without adequate environmental review."
"Mining at Black Mesa has caused springs on Hopi lands to dry up and jeopardized the sole source of drinking water for many Hopis and Navajos," stated Grijalva. "The Secretary, as the trustee for Native American tribes, must ensure that mining is done responsibly on tribal lands and that tribes actually want mining to occur. This project does not meet that test."
Former Navajo Chairman Peter MacDonald Sr. also recently came out against the expanded permit for Peabody, "The best thing that the Navajo Nation could do is to get rid of Peabody."
The Hopi Tribal Council is officially opposed to this project, however, the Council is currently in turmoil over the suspension of the Tribal Chairman. As a result, proper consultation with the Tribe, as required by federal law, cannot occur.
"The Interior Department and OSM are moving forward on this project to try to approve it before the end of the year," said Grijalva. "During a time of sacred religious ceremonies on Hopi, OSM is expecting the Hopi people to understand a complicated legal process to approve mining without a functioning tribal council to represent them. The Secretary needs to suspend this process until the tribal council is once again functional and spiritual ceremonies have concluded. Doing otherwise ignores the important obligations the federal government has toward tribes."
In addition, the power plant that previously used Black Mesa Mine coal shut down, and there is no other proposed use for the coal whose mining would be permitted by OSM. As a result, there is no actual proposed project involving Black Mesa Mine coal to be analyzed, making the pending decision not only premature, but in direct conflict with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. According to former Hopi Tribal Chairman, Vernon Masayesva, "No customer means no project – you can't do an EIS unless you have a real project, yet OSM is going ahead with getting a life-of-mine permit."
Black Mesa Navajo and Hopi residents are concerned about how this project will impact the future of their homelands given the history of Peabody's unwise use of the Navajo Aquifer. "For decades coal and water from our lands have been taken to power Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Yet, we have have suffered the loss of our sole source drinking water to accomodate the over consumption of these areas," says Nikke Alex.
Black Mesa is the ancestral homelands to thousands of Navajo and Hopi families and is regarded as a sacred mountain to the Navajo people and plays an integral role in the cultural survival for the future generations of both the Navajo and Hopi people. Many Navajo and Hopi people stand firmly in opposition to this mine expansion plan and are organizing to voice their concerns.
"Peabody coal is destroying America's land and heritage in Appalachia and on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, and the federal government is ignoring all of our voices. We have to stand together and support each other," said Judy Bonds of Coal River.

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