Lynda Lovejoy Loses Presidential Bid - Judge Blocks Expansion Of Navajo Mine
33,692 - 52.6% for Shelly/Jim
30,357 -47.4% for Lovejoy/Tulley
Coal Mine Will Affect Culture, Health And Navajo 'Way of Life'
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – BHP Billiton has temporarily suspended operations in a newly permitted area of its Navajo Mine after Senior U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane voided a permit for the 4,800-acre expansion, citing numerous failures by a federal agency in evaluating the environmental and cultural impacts.
As a result of Thursday’s 46-page decision, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement will have to reassess how expansion of the northern New Mexico coal mine will affect culture, health and the way of life of Navajos who live in the area slated for mining.
BHP Billiton said Thursday’s decision by the U.S. District Court in Denver vacated an approval issued by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining in 2005 to allow mining in the Area 4 North section of Navajo Mine and remanded the permit revision to OSM for additional work.
“At this time, BHP Billiton is reviewing the decision in order to understand the specific impacts of this decision on Navajo Mine,” Pat Risner of BHP Billiton Media Relations in Farmington, said Monday. “We are in consultation with OSM on the appropriate next steps.
In the meantime, BHP Billiton has temporarily suspended operations in Area 4 North to allow
time to understand the implications of the decision. Operations at Navajo Mine in all other areas will continue with no interruptions.”
The Navajo Mine supplies coal solely to the Four Corners Generating Station. In early October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed an 80 percent reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions at the plant by requiring additional pollution controls, including selective catalytic reduction, estimated to cost $828 million, and controls to limit particulate emissions on units one, two and three. Southern California Edison plans to divest its 48 percent share in units four and five of the 2,040 megawatt plant by 2016.
“We will continue to watch this case and are supportive of a prompt resolution to this issue,” Mark Schiovani, senior vice president for Arizona Public Service Fossil Generation, said Monday from Phoenix. “The long term viability of Four Corners Generating Station is critical to the region economic well-being, the Navajo Nation and to our customers, and anything that may impact this viability is of a concern to us.”
In his decision, Kane agreed with the tenets of a lawsuit filed on behalf of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and San Juan Citizens Alliance, a Four Corners conservation group. They alleged that OSM failed to meet the basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, including how the mine would impact relocation of residents, sacred burial grounds and historical sites in the mine area, in its approval of the 2005 permit revision application.
“In approving the huge mine with such little oversight, OSM demonstrated their cozy relationship with mining industry which appears to take precedent over the concern of the health, culture or history of the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman of Diné CARE. “Obviously, their methods didn’t fly with the law or the judge. This mine expansion would have a huge impact on many people, on our water, our health and our way of life. We are very grateful for the outcome,” she said.
The court faulted OSM for failing to notify Navajos who would be affected by the proposed expansion and noted that its lack of effort resulted in OSM receiving no public comments on the 2005 application. The court compared the public notice efforts provided in advance of the 2009 permit renewal application, which resulted in “significant public comment” and said it demonstrated the inadequacy of the 2005 notice.
OSM was directed by the court to provide “meaningful public notice” in both English and Navajo in all future actions related to Navajo Mine.
“What OSM did was appalling,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “A project of this size requires a full-scale environmental review, yet the agency somehow thought they could get away with a simple check list. This was a complete lack of regard for the public trust.”
The judge found that OSM failed to take the requisite “hard look” at the continued permanent disposal of coal combustion waste as minefill at Navajo Mine and the impacts to scientific, cultural and historical resources in Area 4 North.
In the new environmental review OSM will have to analyze the impacts of disposing of coal-ash waste by dumping into unlined areas of any proposed mine expansion, and the impacts on at least 73 cultural sites, 34 of which are eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as several Traditional Cultural Properties, including burials.
“Judge Kane’s decision was a significant rebuke of the federal agency charged with protecting communities, land and water from the harms of Western coal mining,” said attorney Brad Bartlett who represented the organizations in the litigation. “OSM has failed to meaningfully involve the public in its decisions regarding the Navajo mine for over 30 years. Judge Kane’s decision sends a clear signal that it is time for the agency to turn the corner, do its job, and stand up for impacted communities and the environment.”
In addition to supplying coal to Four Corners power plant, BHP's Area 4 North expansion is designed, in part, to supply coal for the proposed 1,500 megawatt Desert Rock power plant and a coal-processing facility, Bartlett said.
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