Details in Navajo Please; Public Meetings Coming up on Navajo Mine

Got questions or comments about the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project – attend one of the upcoming public meetings.

Got questions or comments about the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project?

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s Western Region is hosting nine public meetings to address environmental impacts of the power plant and mine complex. The meetings, which kick off Wednesday, April 30, come four months after the Navajo Nation Council approved the $85 million purchase of the mine.

The decades-old mine, located south of Farmington, New Mexico, contains coal reserves to last for the next century, but opponents claim health and environmental costs outweigh economic benefits.

The Office of Surface Mining, or OSM, in late March released a lengthy draft environmental impact statement that evaluates continued operation of the mine and analyzes five possible courses of action. The statement was prepared over a period of several years, with cooperation from the Navajo and Hopi tribes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.

During the upcoming public meetings, held in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, the OSM will answer questions and collect feedback. The office will accept written comments until May 27.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, or Diné CARE, is encouraging all Navajo citizens to attend a meeting. The grassroots group vocally opposed the tribe’s purchase of the mine, claiming the council acted too quickly and failed to wait for the OSM to release its impact statement.

“We were trying to say wait to purchase the mine until this document came out,” said Colleen Cooley, Diné CARE’s Four Corners energy outreach organizer. “We were saying they should have waited and assessed what the potential impacts might have been. Instead, they rushed into it.”

Diné CARE hosted a rally on Saturday, April 19 – ahead of the OSM meetings – to boost public knowledge of the mine purchase and the draft environmental impact statement. It also is pushing for the entire 1,500-page statement to be translated into Navajo and for the OSM to extend its comment period.

Four of the nine meetings are scheduled on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, but Cooley said many Navajos still won’t have access to them.

“I’ve been looking through the statement and it’s full of technical information,” she said. “The Navajo-speaking public will not understand that. We need Navajo interpreters at the meetings, and we need everything explained in Navajo.”

The tribe made international news in December when it agreed to purchase the mine. Advocates for the purchase like LoRenzo Bates, who now serves as the Navajo Nation Council’s speaker pro tem, claimed it would safeguard the tribe’s role in energy development.

“Rather than sitting on the sidelines, we now have a say in the energy industry in terms of how that reserve of coal is being used,” he said. “This say goes beyond the coal industry and allows us a voice in alternative forms of energy.”

Other lawmakers are not so optimistic. During Diné CARE’s recent rally, Russell Begaye, council delegate representing the Shiprock Chapter and a candidate for Navajo Nation president, spoke against the hasty purchase and its accompanying legal repercussions. When it approved the purchase, the council also waived sovereign immunity and agreed that any arbitration would be settled in state courts rather than tribal courts.

“One of the biggest mistakes that we made as a Nation is when we bought that mine and we gave them a ‘from-past-to-present, forever,’ waiver on any liability,” Begaye said at the rally. “Huge mistake we made as a Nation.”

The purchase began when Southern California Edison, the largest interest owner at the power plant, announced its intent to move toward cleaner energy. In December, Arizona Public Service Company finalized a deal to buy out Southern California Edison’s interests. APS, which now has 63 percent ownership of the power plant, then permanently closed three of the five units as part of its plan to bring the plant into compliance with federal clean air standards.

The purchase deal, between the recently established Navajo Transitional Energy Company and the mine’s former owner, BHP Billiton, allows production to continue at the mine beyond 2016, when BHP’s current lease expires. The mine produces about 8 million tons of coal every year and brings in $41 million annually.

Since the mine and the power plant first began operating in the 1960s, the tribe has pulled in lease payments, royalties and taxes. Purchase of the mine allows those payments to continue, and it is expected to save about 800 jobs for Navajo people.

Public meetings will be held at the following times and locations:

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, April 30: Hotevilla Youth and Elderly Center, 1 Main St., Hotevilla, Arizona

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday, May 1: Montezuma-Cortez High School, 206 West 7th St., Cortez, Colorado

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, May 2: Burnham Chapter House, 12 miles east of U.S. 491 on Navajo Route 5, and half-mile south of Navajo Route 5080, Burnham, N.M.

-- 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Saturday, May 3: Durango Community Recreation Center, 2700 Main Ave., Durango, Colorado

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Monday, May 5: Farmington Civic Center, 200 West Arrington, Farmington, N.M.

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, May 6: Shiprock High School, U.S. Highway 64, Shiprock, N.M.

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, May 7: Nenahnezad Chapter House, West Highway 65, County Road 6675, Navajo Route 365, Fruitland, N.M.

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Thursday, May 8: Navajo Nation Museum, Highway 264, Postal Loop Road, Window Rock, Arizona

-- 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, May 9: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th St. NW, Albuquerque, N.M.

The draft environmental impact statement is available here.