‘It’s Peabody’s Duty’: Campaigners Say Peabody Does Not Clear Mines On Black Mesa
Environmental activists want to ensure that Peabody Western Coal Company cleans up harmful environmental impacts at the Kayenta mine, where low sulfur coal has been produced and shipped to the Navajo plant for more than four decades.
Campaigners Nicole Horseherder and Ben Nuvamsa say they haven’t seen any corrective action since the mine closed in August 2019. Peabody Energy is closing in on filing for bankruptcy, delaying reclamation work.
Nuvamsa said thousands of acres of Navajo and Hopi land and water supplies have been destroyed by Peabody mining since 1970, when Operation Kayenta began in Dziłyíjiin.
“Both mines are now closed after digging and damaging over 20,000 acres of our land,” said Nuvamsa, former president of the Hopi tribe, in a recent meeting with the House Committee on Natural Resources on Environmental Justice for the coal country.
“Land on which our people have lived for centuries, land we use for agriculture and where we raise our families,” Nuvamsa said. “Now this land is not habitable and is now unusable. “
Horseherder, executive director of Dziłyíjiin-based Tó Nizhóní Ání, said the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is supposed to oversee the reclamation.
“But (OSMR) today has done absolutely nothing to ensure that the reclamation takes place in a timely and adequate manner,” Horseherder said. “(This) allowed Peabody to leave damage to the Black Mesa mine and took no action to continue reclamation work at the Kayenta mine.”
The dark side of coal
More than three years after emerging from a bankruptcy restructuring in 2017 that purged $ 5 million of debt from its balance sheet, Peabody Energy was on the brink of yet another potential default late last year.
But Peabody made a deal with the creditors to give himself more time to pay off a large debt. The deal also provides additional credit to Peabody. The company has given itself until 2024 to raise the bar.
“Operational and productivity improvements continue to take hold across the company,” said Glenn Kellow, former president and CEO of Peabody, who stepped down on June 1. of our long-term debt.
Collapses of coal companies have become increasingly common in the United States. With utilities rapidly switching to cheap natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar power, coal companies have closed mines and laid off workers.
“The company emerged from its first bankruptcy just four years ago and barely avoided another… by making a deal to restructure hundreds of millions of dollars in debt,” Horseherder said. “This business is on a fast track to insolvency.”
That would be disastrous for the reclamation, and it would allow Peabody to dictate what the reclamation looks like, which is likely a shortcut to saving money, Horseherder said.
“It would also limit the ability of our employees to participate in the reclamation process,” she added. “The Kayenta mine closed almost two years ago, but the OSM (RE) has not lifted a finger to demand a major license review. “
The review of Peabody’s license is currently on hold, according to OSMRE, which received a review request for the Kayenta mine complex on May 1, 2012. The review request was updated by Peabody on December 18, 2013; February 10, 2014; and May 2, 2014.
“A major license review is essential as it will allow for a full review of the reclamation plans,” Horseherder said.
The scars of the mine
Groundwater has been used in the Kayenta and Black Mesa mine complexes since 1968 to support mining and recovery activities, including transporting pulverized coal via a slurry pipeline into the former Black Mesa mine, according to the water use projection ratio.
The Navajo Aquifer is the primary source of groundwater for industrial and municipal users in the Dziłyíjiin region, covering an area of 5,400 square miles.
Both Diné and Kiis’áanii depend on groundwater from the N aquifer to meet municipal, domestic, livestock and irrigation needs.
The Diné and Kiis’áanii communities pump water from aquifer N, and to a lesser extent, aquifer D.
Both tribes expressed concern about the effects of pumping on long-term water supply, flow in streams and springs, and groundwater quality. Annual withdrawals from the N Aquifer for industrial and municipal purposes have increased from about 70 acre-feet in 1965 to 7,330 acre-feet in 2005.
Operations at the Black Mesa mine were suspended at the end of 2005 and the rate of groundwater pumping declined significantly. Pumping of industrial water has declined by about 70 percent, according to the USGS Arizona Water Science Center.
Groundwater withdrawals by Peabody Energy accounted for 70-75% of total withdrawals from the mid-1980s to 2005, after which Peabody’s water use accounted for about 30% of total water use while municipal users accounted for 70% of water use.
The future of coal mining
Operations at the Kayenta mine ceased on August 26, 2019, just 84 days before the shutdown of its only customer, the Navajo plant, on November 18, 2019. Mine operations have been inactive since then.
Due to the closure of the Black Mesa and Kayenta mining complexes and the start of reclamation activities, Peabody will not be distributing any new coal mining areas.
Instead, it will re-level, topdress and seed previously disturbed areas, according to its fact sheet on the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Project.
Remaining activities at the mine site will include mine reclamation which is underway over the next five to ten years.
“Growing up we had access to water from the seeps and springs of Black Mesa,” said Horseherder, whose family has to travel about 40 miles round trip to get water at Peabody, Hard Rock or Piñon.
“And most of them dried up and stopped producing water,” she continued. “At the end of the summer, we have to queue for hours to refuel at one of these community wells. The OSM (RE) is complicit in helping to cover up the impact of mining on our water. They do this by playing games with data using computer modeling instead of real-world water measurements. “
Nuvamsa said his people, the Hopi, are concerned that nothing is being done to repair and rehabilitate the Navajo and Hopi lands that have been damaged and destroyed during more than half a century of coal mining on Dziłyíjiin.
“Foremost among them is the irreparable damage to our main water source and the Navajo Aquifer and the removal of the remains of our ancestors from their sacred burial grounds,” Nuvamsa said.