Permit for Coal Mine Expansion Revoked on Navajo Land


Image: Flickr via Doc Searls

Two environmental groups have at least a temporary victory to celebrate after a federal judge voided a permit, granted in 2005, for the expansion of a coal mine on Navajo land in New Mexico.

The permit had been approved after an environmental assessment found "no significant impact," a conclusion that the San Juan Citizens Alliance and Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment contested was based on insufficient analysis that did not meet EPA standards. Judge John Kane agreed, and has now ordered the federal government to review the effects the expansion might have on cultural resources and the environment.
The Navajo Mine is an open pit mine operated by Australian-owned BHP Billiton and supplies coal to the Four Corners Power Plant, also located on Navajo land. That plant is the largest source of nitrogen oxide emissions in the country.

Opponents of the expansion expect that it would only exacerbate existing environmental problems associated with the mine. ENS reports: "All of the mine's discharge outfalls are to receiving waters located on the Navajo Nation tribal lands. Coal combustion byproducts generated at Arizona Public Service Company Four Corners electric power plant are transported back to the mine and backfilled into the coal pit."

The decision is timely and in tune with shifting priorities of at least some Navajo people—the New York Times has run two stories recently on the changing landscape of the Navajo Nation. Where it once was economically dependent on coal, there is now a shifting focus to wind and solar energy.

Not surprisingly, BHP Billiton is reviewing the judge's decision, as is the federal Office of Surface Mining.

More on coal
New Mexico (And Some Navajo) Object To 1,500-megawatt Coal-Fired Power Plant
In Appalachia, Coal Mining Costs $9-$76 Billion More Per Year Than It Pulls In
Mining Coal is Clean? Tell That to the Miners With Black Lung

Tags: Coal | New Mexico | Pollution | Preservation