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Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Censored: Forgotten People on Black Mesa

Censored: Forgotten People on Black Mesa
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

The mainstream media continued aiding and abetting the dirty coal industry this week, in the genocidal targeting of American Indian lands for toxic and polluting industries that the rest of humanity doesn't want in their backyards.

Hopi and Navajo fighting Peabody Coal mining on Black Mesa celebrated a victory this week when the US Interior Dept. rejected a coal mining permit for Peabody Coal on Black Mesa. It is a victory that the majority of the mainstream media is ignoring.

Hopi and Navajo have made it easy for even the laziest journalist, or the newspaper without a dime for travel, to cover the story. There are press statements online with abundant quotes from the Hopi and Navajo who took the action and live on the land. Their phone numbers are also on their press statements, so the mainstream media has no excuse. Censored News will even send the judge's order by e-mail to anyone that requests it.

It seems the mainstream media doesn't want to admit the truth about mining on Black Mesa. Journalists do not want to take the time to understand the facts. One of these facts is that the elected Navajo and Hopi tribal councils were created by the United States for the purpose of signing energy leases. These councils are not the traditional Navajo and Hopi forms of governance. Today, the revenues go to the tribal governments, while the people living on the land continue to fight to protect the land, air and water and live free from the diseases of these pollutants and the draining of their aquifers.

The Navajo Nation Council, in its own history published in the 1980s, stated that the Navajo government was established by the US for the purpose of signing energy leases. Hopi Dan Evehema, at the age of 104, stated that the Hopi Sinom never authorized or recognized the Hopi Tribal Council. These councils became "US puppet governments" to the people living on the land and fighting to protect the land and the people.

The number of diseases and deaths related to the coal-fired power plants, coal mining, oil and gas wells and Cold War uranium mining on the Navajo Nation have never been documented. Secrecy and censorship have aided in this crime against humanity.

Individual Hopi and Navajo, and organizations and chapters, fought Peabody's coal mining permit and won a victory.

Vernon Masayesva, Hopi, said it is a new day for Native peoples.

"A great new day is dawning for the Hopi and all Native peoples in this country," said Masayesva, executive director of the grassroots organization Black Mesa Trust. His comment came in response to the news that an Office of Surface Mining administrative law judge rejected the permit issued by OSM for the Black Mesa Complex. The permit would have allowed Peabody Coal to continue mining-as-usual at the Black Mesa and Kayenta Mines on Hopi and Navajo lands.

Masayesva and former Hopi Tribal Chairman Ben Nuvamsa met with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's staff in November to ask that decision-makers at Interior be more responsive to Native American concerns and more mindful of their trust responsibilities for the 560-plus Indian tribes in the U.S.

"The Interior Secretary and the agencies under his oversight are to be commended," Masayesva said in a statement.

Wahleah Johns, co-director of Black Mesa Water Coalition, one of the petitioners in the appeal, responded to Judge Robert G. Holt's ruling. "As a community member of Black Mesa I am grateful for Judge Holt's decision. For 40 years our sacred homelands and people have borne the brunt of coal mining impacts, from relocation to depletion of our only drinking water source. This ruling is an important step towards restorative justice for Indigenous communities who have suffered at the hands of multinational companies like Peabody Energy. This decision is also precedent-setting for all other communities who struggle with the complexities of NEPA laws and OSM procedures in regards to environmental protection. However, we also cannot ignore that irreversible damage of coal mining industries continues on the land, water, air, people and all living things."

The Administrative Law Judge's order decides issues raised by members of the Hopi Nation in one of many appeals brought in response to OSM's final permit, which was issued in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The "life of mine" permit issued by OSM authorized and expanded mining operations at Black Mesa beyond the year 2026 for the remaining portion of an estimated total of 670 million tons of coal. The order cited violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA,) the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Black Mesa Water Coalition said in a joint statement.

"This is a huge victory for the communities of Black Mesa impacted by coal mining and proof that Peabody can't have its way on Black Mesa anymore," said Sierra Club's Hertha Woody, a member of the Navajo Nation. "Coal is a dirty, dangerous and outdated energy source that devastates communities, jeopardizes drinking water and destroys wildlife habitats. This decision is yet another example of why it no longer makes sense to burn coal to get electricity."

The Black Mesa Coal Mine Complex has a long history of controversy stemming from concerns about air and water pollution, impacts to local residents, the drying of aquifers and sacred springs, and coal's contribution to global warming. Heavy metals and pollutants that result from mining operations are toxic to humans and harmful to wildlife.

On the Navajo Nation, The Forgotten People, a Navajo group working toward human rights, raised new questions about the dangerous and unregulated coal transport train that passes through their communities enroute to the Navajo Generating Station at Page, Ariz., one of the coal-fired power plants on the Navajo Nation.

The Forgotten People and three Chapters, Tonalea Chapter, Coal Mine Canyon Chapter and Leupp Chapter joined Californians for Renewable energy, Kendall Nutumya, Victor Masayesva, Jr., and Black Mesa Water Coalition to oppose the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining decision to approve a controversial life-of-mine permit for Peabody Coal Company's Black Mesa mine in the final days of the Bush Administration.

Chester Claw, President of Tonalea Chapter said, "All these years our people suffered from adverse health effects and pollution of the environment. I am speechless, at a loss for words about what Forgotten People and the other groups are doing against a big company while all the Navajo Nation has done for decades is think about money and forget about the people's health and the environment. This is 'David v. Goliath' and David prevailed."

"Now we need to focus on Salt River Project and Navajo Generating Station so they get a transportation permit to carry Peabody's Kayenta coal like they do at all other mines to ensure safety. SRP and NGS must install warning lights and barrier arms so no more people and livestock die at the railroad crossings," Claw said.

Don Yellowman, President of Forgotten People said, "What SRP and NGS are doing with an unpermitted railroad is equivalent to an unsafe semi truck driving on a highway without warning lights and improperly functioning brakes. Are they doing this because the life of our people and livestock are less important?"

The Forgotten People said that in light of US EPA initiatives, the uncertainty of the NGS, and an increasing awareness of climate change, they are urging the Navajo Nation Council to take action. The Council was urged to hold a public hearing on the Kayenta mine in a Hogan in Black Mesa, Vote No to an extension of Peabody's Kayenta mine lease, develop an alternative energy policy, and "Go Green."

While most of the electricity produced in coal-fired power plants on the Navajo Nation goes to Southwest cities, many Navajos continue to live without electricity. Many Navajos living beneath dangerous electric transmission lines which transport power to Phoenix, Tucson and Los Angeles, have only the light produced by kerosene or battery-operated lanterns.

While Peabody Coal mining drains the aquifer, many Navajos live without running water. Hauling water is expensive and requires transporation. For elderly, there is often no one to haul water for them over the rutted dirt roads, roads often impassable in winter and during rains.

For those struggling to protect the aquifer and sacred springs, the Interior ruling came as good news.

"It is good news that our concerns were heard. Water is very precious that should not be used for coal mining but instead should be used for our people. I am pleased with this outcome," said Calvin Johnson of the grassroots organization C-Aquifer for Dine'.

"Dine' C.A.R.E. commends DOI Judge Holt," said Anna Frazier of Dine' C.A.R.E. "This is a hopeful step toward a better consultation with OSM and other regulatory entities. The ultimate goals for our people and our land are for OSM to withdraw the life of mine permit, as there is no purpose and need for it, to move toward permanent closure of the existing Kayenta Mine and transportation complex and to begin total reclamation on Black Mesa."

The coalition of tribal and environmental groups who filed a related appeal of OSM's permit included the Black Mesa Water Coalition, Diné C.A.R.E., Dine Hataalii Association, Inc., Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earlier, in the 1970s, Peabody Coal orchestrated the so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute, to remove Navajos and make way for coal mining. The US relocated more than 14,000 Navajos. While coal mining destroyed the land and poisoned the air at Black Mesa, water was drained from the aquifer.

Coal-fired power plants are cited as a primary reason for global warming. US coal-fired power plants -- including those on the Navajo Nation at Page, Ariz., and in the Four Corners region -- are a primary reason for global warming, resulting in the melting Arctic ice and destruction of Arctic homelands for Indigenous Peoples and wildlife.

Peabody Coal orchestrated the so-called Navajo Hopi land dispute and coal mining on Black Mesa, carried out without a proper EIS or permits. Peabody Coal, attorneys, US senators, including John McCain, and tribal councilmen, cut backdoor deals which has resulted in more than 30 years of suffering for Navajos living on Black Mesa. Navajos resisting relocation live without basic necessities, with no one to turn to when they are cold, hungry and sick. Ultimately, the Navajo Nation government abandoned its own people on Black Mesa in favor of revenues from coal mining.

The complete copy of order is available from

The complete statements from Hopi and Navajo are at Censored News:

Excerpts from order:

United States Department of the Interior
Office of Hearing and Appeals
Departmental Hearings Division
405 South Main Street, Suite 400
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111
Telephone: (801) 524-5344
Facsimile: (801) 524-5539

January 5, 2010

In Re Black Mesa Complex Permit Revision.
DV 2009-1-PR thru DV 2009-8-PR
Significant Permit Revision
Permit No. AZ-001D
(Docket No. DV 2009-4-PRJ)
(Docket Nos. DV 2009-1-PR, DV ... DV 2009-8-PR)


OSM violated NEPA by not preparing a supplemental draft EIS when Peabody changed the proposed action. As a result the Final EIS did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives to the new proposed action, described the wrong environmental baseline, and did not achieve the informed decision-making and meaningful public comment required by NEPA. Because of the defective Final EIS, OSM's decision to issue a revised permit to Peabody must be vacated and remanded to OSM for further action.

Having considered the motion, the other papers on file, and for good cause, it is ordered that:

1. The Motino by Petitioners, Kendall Nutumy, et.all, in Docket No. DV 2009-4-PR, for Summary Disposition Based on OSM's Violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is granted.

2. The Decision, dated December 22, 2008, of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, approving the Application for Significant Permit Revision (Project AZ-001-E-P-01)(Permit AZ-001D) filed by Peabody Western coal Company for the Black Mesa Complex, is vacated.

3. The other pending motions in this consolidated preceding are denied as moot or not ripe for review.

4. The request for review filed by the following applicants are dismissed as moot.

Californians for Renewable Energy
Victor Masayesva, Jr.
Black Mesa Water Coalition
The Forgotten People
Coal Mine Canyon Chapter
Tonalea Chapter
Leupp Chapter

5. The prehearing conference scheduled for March 9, 2010, and the hearing scheduled for March 16, 2010, are cancelled.

Appeal Rights

Any party aggrieved by this decision may file a petition for discretionary review with the Interior Board of Land Appeal, or seek judicial review pursuant to the provisions in 43 CFR Section 4.1369.

--Robert G. Holt

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