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Navajo Mine

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This article is part of the Coal Issues portal on SourceWatch, a project of CoalSwarm and the Center for Media and Democracy. See here for help on adding material to CoalSwarm.

Navajo mine is a coal mine located 30 miles southwest of Farmington, New Mexico on the Navajo Indian Reservation. The mine, operated by the Navajo Coal Company, produces approximately 8.5 million tons of coal per year and is the sole supplier of coal to the Four Corners Steam Plant. The Navajo Coal Company is a subsidiary of New Mexico Coal which in turn is a wholly owned subsidiary of BHP Billiton.[1]

In its 2008 annual report BHP Billiton states that the mine has been in operation since 1963 and the coal supply contracts "continue to 2016." The company also stated in the annual report that it was "undertaking a feasibility study on a project called the Desert Rock project, which would expand the Navajo mine to supply a proposed new power station to be built immediately adjacent to the mine with up to 5.7 mtpa. The project schedule is tied to the approval process for the power station. The proposed power plant was granted a final air permit by the United States Environmental Protection Agency on 31 July 2008."[2]

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Environmental violations

In its 2008 annual report BHP states that the mine was fined for two breachs of environmental regulations. These were:

  • "In November 2007, two Notices of Violation were issued and a fine for US$584 was received for failure to protect topsoil from erosion"; and
  • "Additionally, in February 2008, a Notice of Violation was issued and a fine for US$1,664 was received for failure to report the correct storage capacity of a sediment control impoundment."[3]

Legislative Issues

In August 2010, a coalition of organizations filed suit against the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSM) western region in U.S. District Court. The petition claims that OSM-issued permits allow BHP Navajo Coal Co.to annually dispose of approximately 1.6 million tons of coal combustion waste into unlined, mined-out coal pits, without environmental monitoring of impacts to surface or ground water. In addition, the groups contend that the revised OSM permit allows traditional cultural and sacred sites to be affected, including authorizing mining within 100 feet of buried tribal members or cemeteries. In court, the plaintiffs testified that daily dust emissions from blasting at Navajo Mine have a “direct and irreparable impact" on nearby residents and livestock, and OSM has not analyzed the effects of pollutants such as mercury, selenium, and radioactive isotopes. Diné CARE and San Juan Citizens Alliance claim that there has been noncompliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and requested that the court find violation of NEPA, vacate OSM’s approval of the 3,800-acre expansion at Navajo Mine, and to require OSM to prepare an EIS for the mine’s permit.[4]

Judge Suspends Navajo Mine Permit

In early November 2010 a federal judge voided a permit for the expansion of the operating permit for the Navajo mine located on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. It was one of two mines at the location that has sought expansion permits. The judge called for a more thorough review of the project’s impact on the environment and on cultural sites.

“This whole area has been utilized for thousands of years by indigenous people,” said Mr. Bartlett, a lawyer at the nonprofit Energy Minerals Law Center in Durango, Colorado. “This is where people have buried kin.”

The decision “sends a very clear signal that it’s time for this agency to do its job,” Mr. Bartlett added.

BHP Billiton owns the mine, which feeds the Four Corners Generating Station, also on Navajo land in New Mexico.[5]

Groups sue Federal Government over alleged failure to protect San Juan River from coal waste

In late January 2011 it was announced that a coalition of environmental groups sued the federal government over its alleged failure to protect the San Juan River ecosystem from coal mining and the disposal of coal-combustion waste in northwestern New Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment and the San Juan Citizens Alliance filed on January 31, 2011 in federal court in Colorado against the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The groups claimed the agency did not consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about threatened and endangered species before renewing a permit last fall for the Navajo Mine.

The groups stated that their lawsuit seeks to have the mining permit overturned as well as force a environmental review to ensure any permits in the future fully comply with the Endangered Species Act.[6]

Mine Data

  • Owner: Navajo Coal Company
  • Parent company: BHP Billiton
  • Location: Navajo Indian Reservation, New Mexico
  • GPS coordinates: 36.61338 N, 108.508342 W
  • Annual Production: 8,529,955 short tons
  • Type of coal: bituminous
  • Mine type: open cut
  • Equipment:
  • Number of employees: 433


Resources

References

  1. “New Mexico Coal”, BHP Billiton website, accessed May 2009.
  2. BHP Billiton, Annual Report 2008", BHP Billiton, page 48.
  3. BHP Billiton, Annual Report 2008", BHP Billiton, page 158.
  4. Navajo group seeks court intervention,Carol Berry, Indian Country Today, September 24, 2010.
  5. "Judge Suspends Navajo Mining Permit" Mireya Navarro, New York Times, November 1, 2010.
  6. "Groups sue over coal impact on San Juan River" Associated Press, Susan Montoya Bryan, February 2, 2011.

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