Opponent says Hopi Tribal Council may have a hidden agenda

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. – Accusing environmentalists of having an anti-Hopi agenda is a divisive “manufactured lie” by a pro-Peabody Western Coal Company tribal council, said a longstanding advocate for tribal control of Black Mesa, the site of massive strip mining operations.

In fact, the Hopi Tribal Council itself may have a hidden agenda to convert two power plants – one operating, and one currently closed – under clean-coal technology, using an expanded coal mining permit to attract investors, he said.

Vernon Masayesva, 70, a former Hopi tribal chairman, said the present tribal council’s action banning environmental groups from tribal lands is based on a lie that the groups are trying to shut down coal mining operations on the mesa in northern Arizona, noting, “We have never said that.”

Masayesva, who founded the Black Mesa Trust about a decade ago, said the Hopi people “are not out to stop the mining,” but want a complete and open analysis of the environmental and other effects of a pending lease expansion by Peabody Western Coal Co. on 100 square miles of Hopi and Navajo lands.

The Hopi Tribal Council, under fire as to its legitimacy in bitter political infighting, ousted major Native and non-Native environmental groups and local supporting organizations from Hopi tribal lands in late September, declaring them enemies of the Hopi economy who are out to “deprive the tribe of markets for its coal resources.”

In fact, the council’s unspoken agenda may be to join Peabody and Salt River Project representatives, who now own or have operated the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona and defunct Mohave Generating Station in Nevada, to convert one or both into carbon capture and sequestration – “clean-coal-burning” – plants “in order to take advantage of President Obama’s endorsement of clean coal” and some $80 million in related stimulus funds, he said.

“Peabody is not bringing this out into the open, and they may have other plans,” he said. “We want an end to this EIS (Black Mesa Project Environmental Impact Statement) process and start another one, and This time, Peabody, you tell us what the project is that justifies the EIS.”

“We have never said to shut down mining. But mining has to be consistent with instructions from our ancestors from thousands of years ago when they were told that within the cupped hand of Black Mesa there was wealth. But they had to meet three conditions – it had to be developed at the right time, in the right way, for the right purposes.” -Vernon Masayesva, Black Mesa Trust founder and former Hopi tribal chairman

OSM in 2008 approved an extended permit allowing the renewed mining of about 5,590 acres of remaining coal at Black Mesa on Hopi and Navajo lands. The mining complex includes Kayenta Mine, which supplies coal to the Navajo station and Black Mesa Mine, which supplied Mohave.

The potential millions of tons more coal adds value to Peabody’s portfolio and makes its ventures more attractive to investors, Masayesva said.

“What they’re trying to do with this EIS is to get the right to develop all the coal on Black Mesa by incorporating Black Mesa (Mine) into Kayenta’s (life-of-mine permit),” he said. “It’s deceptive, and it should end – this is our main argument.” The permit was rushed through before former President George Bush left office, he said.

“If they want to reopen Mojave and Navajo under auspices of a clean-coal technology, why don’t they spell it out?

“We have never said to shut down mining, but mining has to be consistent with instructions from our ancestors from thousands of years ago when they were told that within the cupped hand of Black Mesa there was wealth. But they had to meet three conditions – it had to be developed at the right time, in the right way, for the right purposes.

“Peabody has gone against that from the very beginning,” he said, asserting the company “wasted 45 billion gallons of pristine aquifer water for coal slurry (to Mojave Power Plant) before the slurry was shut down.” He is concerned that potential use of the N-Aquifer under present plans remains ambiguous.

From a dollars-and-cents point of view, the life-of-mine permit is a binding agreement between Peabody and the secretary of the Interior to commit Hopi and Navajo coal and water assets to Peabody, with Interior acting as trustee through OSM, which should “analyze impacts from a trustee point of view,” he said.

Although OSM has both regulatory and trustee functions, the agency cannot assume the latter role “unless they’re mandated to do trust responsibility – but they’re only wearing a regulatory hat and by doing that, they treat Navajo and Hopi trust lands as if they’re no different than West Virginia.”

At a rate of only three to five percent, possessory and business taxes would yield the Hopi Tribe “hundreds of millions” instead of present royalties, which are “just pocket change” by comparison, he said. Although the tribe has the constitutional authority to levy taxes, the present council is choosing not to do so, he added.

OSM should be required to do another analysis, taking into account and balancing the potential taxes against present operations for the “true value of the mine,” he said.

Damage has been done to areas on Black Mesa where Hopi people lived and were buried generations ago, and the Fire and Coyote Clans, among their direct descendents, believe the sites should be protected, he said.

To be Hopi “is to be a conservationist, a caretaker and a steward of planet earth. So, by implication, the council has banned all Hopi people from their land,” he concluded.

“To all the members of organizations banned from Hopi I say, ‘Come and visit me.’ I, for one, will not have my civil rights violated.”