Groups Challenge Environmental Analysis of Controversial Black Mesa Project

EIS Fails to Consider Impacts, Alternatives and Mitigation Measures
LOS ANGELES (February 6, 2007) -- The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Black Mesa Water Coalition, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity submitted comments today to the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the controversial Black Mesa coal mining project.

The groups say the Black Mesa Project threatens Native-American aquifers linked to Hopi’s sacred springs, as it plans to use more than one billion gallons of scarce drinking water every year to slurry coal from northern Arizona to the Mohave Power Generating Station, 273 miles away in Laughlin, Nevada.

The draft EIS, according to the comments, fails to meet the most basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, including the failure to analyze the environmental impacts of the massive water withdrawals on Navajo and Hopi reservations. It asserts that four decades of water withdrawals have not harmed the Navajo aquifer to date, and that another two decades would have negligible impacts. Many springs flowing from the Navajo aquifer have run dry since Peabody 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. “This EIS ignores over four decades of hard facts and the eyes of thousands of our elders who have witnessed our springs run dry.”

The EIS is part of a proposal to revive one of the largest coal strip mines in the U.S., which was shuttered last year when the OSM 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 shuttering one of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the West. Last September, however, an owner of the power plant, the Salt River Project, asked OSM 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 EIS.

“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

“No community, no river, no fish need be wiped out forever to produce electricity in the 21st century,” said Erik Ryberg, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, “no matter how much private companies stand to pocket.”

The groups filing comments today say 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. OSM should not ignore renewable energy as a viable alternative to re-opening the Mohave Generating Station. “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.”

The petitioners are asking that OSM, after identifying and analyzing in detail each of the many EIS shortcomings, re-drafts and re-circulates the Environmental Impact Statement.

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 750,000 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