There are two major issues involved in the history of the Black Mesa Peabody Coal debate. The first involves Peabody's use of the Navajo/Hopi water supply. In 1964, Peabody signed a contract with the Navajo (signed two years later with the Hopi) allowing company use of the tribe's water supply in order to transport the coal it extracts from Black Mesa. The contract is not only uncannily profitable to Peabody, but there was widespread opposition of the contract, which still ended up being signed. In fact, the attorney, John Sterling Boyden, who represented the Hopi tribe was on the Peabody Coal payroll. Boyden playing both sides of the conflict was never a question raised in court, although it did create some hostility when the royalty dispute came to the forefront. Aside from the questionable ethics behind the initial contract, there have been numerous problems concerning the tribe's water. The Navajo Aquifer is the sole aquifer providing water to both tribes for drinking, as well as farming, livestock maintenance, and other domestic uses. Pumping 3.1 million gallons of water from the aquifer a day has caused a serious decline in the amount of drinkable water and has also contaminated other water sources. So, not only is everyday water use in danger, but both tribes also have strong religious connections to their water supply. Living in an arid climate, water plays an integral role and has throughout the culture's rich history. Peabody Coal slurries the coal 273 miles to Laughlin, Nevada, so there are multiple alternatives, including other water sources and different modes of transporting the coal. Although it would probably be more expensive, other methods deserve to be looked into.
The second issue involved in the Black Mesa Peabody Coal debate concerns the Navajo Reservation and tribal relocation. In 1974, the federal government partitioned the reservation transferring some of the land to private ownership for mining companies. Many families were relocated, but about 300 families that were not living on the part of the land partitioned decided to stay and fight the exploitation by mining companies. The 300 families are living on approximately $10 million worth of coal and Peabody would like to expand its operation by 13,800 acres, thus taking over this land. Peabody Coal is seeking a permit to mine the reservation, which would be intruding upon tribal sovereignty, as well as forcing the relocation of the remaining 300 families. The final solution came in 1996 when Congress passed the Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act, which required all Navajo remaining on the land in defiance of the 1974 law either to sign leases with the Hopi government ceding all of their property and civil rights, or to be forcibly evicted by the year 2000.
In 2005, the Black Mesa Mine was finally shut down after 30 years of fighting. However, by January 2007, only a little more than a year after its closing, Peabody Energy is looking to reopen the Black Mesa Mine. The need for electricity in Phoenix has created a lot political pressure, which Peabody Energy is using to fuel its interest in obtaining a permit. However, this time instead of just using water from the Navajo Aquifer, Peabody is trying to tap into the Coconino Aquifer, which is located to the south of Black Mesa. The water from the Coconino Aquifer is not drinkable, so Peabody would use this water to slurry the coal. Although this would help stop the decrease in drinkable/usable water, it would also result in expanding the mining zone into undeveloped areas and forcing the relocation of even more residents than in the past. If the permit is approved, Peabody could pump up to 6,000 acre feet per year from the Navajo Aquifer until 2026. The Navajo Aquifer has already been devastated from Peabody's previous use, with 7 local springs and several wells down by approximately 30%. Even with strong opposition from the Hopi and Navajo, there is a good chance that Peabody will gain the permit to reopen the mine.
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