Sierra Club blasts feds for 'rubber-stamping' mine permits


Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau –

Date of publication: 
13 October 2011

Sierra Club blasts feds for ‘rubber-stamping’ mine permits

By Cindy Yurth, Tséyi’ Bureau –

13 October 2011

CHINLE – A Sierra Club spokesman Tuesday blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Surface Mining for “rubber-stamping” two permits for Peabody Western Coal Co.‘s Kayenta Mine, saying they had not seriously considered the impacts on the environment and the community.

The USEPA’s Environmental Appeals Board this week finalized a water discharge permit for the mine over the objections of the Sierra Club, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, which claimed in an appeal that wastewater from the mine contains heavy metals that could end up in drinking and irrigation water.

EPA Water Permits Manager Dave Smith said the appellants did not present any evidence that the mine’s treated storm runoff, which is discharged into washes, is a threat to drinking water supplies.

The appellants are considering an appeal to U.S. Circuit Court.

And last month, OSM issued a “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, in renewing the company’s permit to continue mining at its Kayenta operation through 2015, meaning there is no need for a new environmental impact statement.

Public comment on the FONSI is being accepted through Oct. 22 and is supposed to be incorporated into the agency’s final record of decision on the permit.

Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club called the FONSI “administratively incomplete,” saying it is unsigned and does not include Peabody’s groundwater reclamation bond or hydrology reports.

The FONSI calls the mine’s impacts on the Navajo Aquifer water “negligible to minor,” and states “the N Aquifer drinking water use designation remains uncompromised.”

Bessler said OSM has ignored a recent report by University of Arizona scientist Daniel Higgins which contains data showing the mine’s use of water impacts some of the water sources around Black Mesa, where it is located.

The FONSI also finds no significant impact on local residents, despite the fact that four households would be displaced by new mining.

“Relocated residents are compensated for the replacement of all structures and for lost grazing acreage if the resident can establish a customary use area claim,” the agency reasoned.

“Ask them (the residents) if that’s significant,” Bessler retorted.

States the FONSI, “Continued mining activities … would disturb 1,159 acres of land used for grazing and traditional land uses, resulting in a localized, moderate, short-term impact. However, reclamation of these disturbed areas would improve the productivity and quality of grazing lands.”

The document also cites the economic benefits to the Navajo and Hopi tribes, stating the mine plans to add 10 new jobs and annual revenue to the tribes will continue at $43.2 million, plus $6.2 million to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority and scholarship funds.

Bessler said the Sierra Club plans to submit comments on the document, attaching data from Higgins’ study.

“The OSM did not do its due diligence, and we’re going to hold them accountable,” he said. “If need be, we will take them to court.”

Both the EPA decision and the FONSI indicate “the federal government is rubber-stamping Peabody’s permit renewals rather than looking out for the environment and the people they’re supposed to be serving,” Bessler stated. “They’re not even pretending to listen to the people.”

Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said the federal finding “reinforces Peabody’s record of compliance with the Clean Water Act and that claims by activists had no basis.

“Kayenta Mine is a powerful economic force in the region, creating 400 jobs and nearly $370 million in direct and indirect economic benefits for regional communities,” she added.

Sutton addressed the UA research in a previous interview, saying that Peabody’s own studies contradict Higgins’ data and calling his report “light on science.”

The Finding of No Significant Impact on the Kayenta Mine permit renewal and related documents can be viewed online at