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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, Nevada.

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 statement.

“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.

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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

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