Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 17, 2015

Contacts:  Shiloh Hernandez, Western Environmental Law Center, (406) 204-4861,
Colleen Cooley, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, (928) 637-3221,
Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance, (505) 360-8994,
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414,
Nellis Kennedy-Howard, Sierra Club, (218) 849-4523,
Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, (575) 770-8327,

10th Circuit Court Rejects Navajo Coal Mine Emergency Motion

DENVER— Two days after a federal district court halted coal mining within a newly expanded area of New Mexico’s Navajo Mine, mine operators filed an emergency motion asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow that coal mining to resume. The appeals court on Thursday denied that motion, saying that the Navajo Mine’s owner, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, “failed to make the requisite showing” justifying their request to restart coal mining.

The order giving rise to the emergency motion was signed by Judge John L. Kane on April 6. Judge Kane’s order balanced economic, public health, environmental and other public-interest concerns in vacating a 2012 decision by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to expand the Navajo Mine. The order halted mining in the expansion area, known as “Area IV,” pending a new environmental review that properly evaluates the impacts of mercury pollution from burning coal for electricity to public health and the environment.

Plaintiffs in the litigation are Diné CARE, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Amigos Bravos, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club. They are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center. 

Thursday’s 10th Circuit ruling is available here.

The April 2015 remedy is available here. Press release here.

The March 2015 court ruling is available here. Press release here.

Navajo Mine is located in San Juan County, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. The Four Corners Power Plant, which burns coal exclusively from the Navajo Mine, was built in 1962 and provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Historically, the Four Corners Power Plant was the largest coal-fired power plant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States. NOx is associated with respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes. In recent years Four Corners retired a quarter of its coal capacity to address this NOx pollution. While helpful, 1,500 megawatts of coal power still poisons communities and environment, and impedes clean energy transition efforts. 

The legal action brought under the National Environmental Policy Act, challenged the Office of Surface Mining’s 2012 decision to expand strip-mining operations by 714 acres to provide Four Corners with coal through 2016. That expansion was proposed in the wake of Diné CARE v. Klein (Diné CARE), 747 F. Supp. 2d 1234 (D. Colo. 2010). In that case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that a previous proposal to strip mine all 3,800 acres of Area IV North violated NEPA and ordered OSM to revisit its analysis under the Act.

The March 2015 decision pivoted off mercury pollution concerns. Mercury pollution is a potent neurotoxin. Because of mercury pollution, including from the Navajo Mine and Four Corners complex, Colorado and New Mexico discourage fish consumption in the region. Federal studies show that 64 percent of endangered Colorado pikeminnow in the San Juan River contain levels of muscle tissue mercury that impair fish reproduction. In addition, the Navajo Mine and Four Corners complex create serious climate, public health and ecological issues.

Shortly after OSM approved the 2012 Navajo coal-mine expansion, it initiated another environmental review to address coal mining and combustion operations beyond 2016 and, presumably, those operations’ legacy of pollution to the region. A draft environmental review for those post-2016 operations was released in 2014.

Unfortunately, that review was deeply flawed. However, if those flaws are fixed, the final environmental review would help address chronic legacy pollution issues caused by the Navajo Mine-Four Corners complex and help spark a transition away from coal and towards clean energy.


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