The coal mine at Black Mesa on the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations in Northern Arizona is one of those iconic environmental issues that has captured a special place in our nation's environmental history. Activists and students of energy and lands policy have learned about (and hated) Black Mesa for decades.
One reason is that the Black Mesa coal mine has taken a little something from everyone. Strip mining under the 1872 Mining Law is bad enough, but this strip mine, in Indian Country, presents a sordid history all its own, chock-a-block with the usual characters we find in relations between Indian nations and anglo capitalists. Suffice it to say that here, as elsewhere, the Indian nations were not treated charitably.
And this mine of course is run by Peabody Coal. Not a name that evokes a sympathetic response among students of natural resource history (or social history, for that matter).
Then there's the water. Mining at Black Mesa entails sending coal via a slurry pipeline some 270 miles to the west, to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada. Billions of gallons of very high-quality water have been pumped from beneath the Hopi and Navajo Nations, mixed with coal dust, and piped away forever. This water is irreplaceable, of course, and the pumping has, to no one's surprise, destroyed wells and springs and lowered the water table in many areas. Water, literally worshipped by the Hopi people, has vanished from sacred springs so that Californians can run their blow dryers.
And then there is the matter of the Mohave Generating Station itself. The ancient plant was finally closed a few years ago after environmentalists sued over air quality violations--the plant was single-handedly responsible for significantly diminished views in the Grand Canyon. Built in the 1960's, the Mohave Generating Station is an old, dirty plant in a business that where being "dirty" really means something.
Now for the good news.
Some months ago the Salt River Project decided to reopen Mohave, rebuild the slurry pipeline, and commence mining at Black Mesa again. Thousands of nasty comment letters later, they announced last week that they have changed their mind and backed out of the deal. This probably kills the plant and the mine and the pipeline for quite awhile--hopefully forever.
Unfortunately, we are told that Southern California Edison is giving strong consideration to taking up where the Salt River Project left off. So those of you in California, please write your representatives. This is a project that needs to be shut down forever.
Office of Surface Management Draft EIS for Black Mesa here.
Water Follies, a book that gives a concise history of Black Mesa, here.
Newspaper report on Salt River Project giving up on Black Mesa here.
Center for Biological Diversity, NRDC, and Black Mesa Water Coalition press release here.
Black Mesa Water Coalition website here.