Navajo Mine: Forced relocation of Navajos and toxic dumping
Australia's BHP Billiton the latest of the Australian and Canadian corporations exploiting Indigenous lands worldwide
By Dine' CARE
DURANGO, COLORADO — Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment
(“C.A.R.E.”) and the San Juan Citizens Alliance were forced to take legal action against
the Federal Office of Surface Mining (“OSM”) today over the agency’s approval of a
massive mine expansion for the Navajo Mine. OSM’s decisions have already led to the
permanent removal or relocation of numerous tribal members from their homeland and resulted in the permanent dumping of millions of tons of hazardous wastes. OSM recently issued mine permits to BHP Billiton, an Australian Corporation, which would
significantly expand these practices.
BHP’s Navajo Mine is a massive 13,000 acre surface coal mining operation located in the Four Corners Region on the Navajo Nation. The two mine permits challenged by the groups authorize BHP to mine coal for the Four Corners Power Plant and to permanently
dispose of Coal Combustion Waste (“CCW”). CCW consists of toxic solid wastes
(including fly ash, scrubber sludge and bottom ash) from the power plant’s coal-fired
“Over 1.5 million tons per year of coal combustion waste from the power plant is
backfilled into the Navajo Mine,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the Alliance, “Despite legal
requirements, OSM hasn’t required protections for ground or surface water. It doesn’t
even require monitoring—even though the mine is part of a major river drainage,” said
Eisenfeld. The Navajo Mine lies within the Chaco River drainage which drains north
into the San Juan River. “OSM is creating a massive superfund legacy for the residents
of the Four Corners. This is an irresponsible dumping practice and has to stop now.”
“OSM’s permitting actions will result in the permanent removal and relocation of Navajo
Nation tribal members including elders.” said Lori Goodman of Diné C.A.R.E. and
Navajo Nation tribal member. “The agency and BHP treat this area as if it is uninhabited.
OSM must understand that community members live or graze livestock in these areas.
OSM fails to recognize that this is our homeland.”
Many tribal members living in the mine area only speak Navajo, do not have phones,
electricity or running water, and use the area for ceremonial and medicinal purposes.
“People have lived on this land for generations. Family members are buried on this land.
OSM’s failure to even contact impacted tribal members before making these permitting
decisions is simply wrong.”
BHP is the largest mining company in the world and the sixth largest energy
corporation. In the 2006, BHP posted record profits of over $10 billion dollars.
The lawsuit challenges OSM’s decision to grant a mine permit renewal and mine
permit revision to BHP as a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act
(“NEPA”). “This lawsuit asks the Federal Court to hold OSM officials in Denver
accountable for their actions.” said Brad Bartlett with the Energy Minerals Law
Center and an attorney for the groups.
OSM’s Denver office that oversees all surface mining activities conducted at the Navajo
Mine. OSM is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Interior. The groups have
asked the U.S. District Court in Denver to compel OSM to undertake an analysis under
NEPA that adequately analyzes the impacts of permanent coal combustion waste disposal
and removal and relocation of tribal members.
The groups will answer questions about the lawsuit at the Open Shutter Gallery in
Durango from 5-7 P.M., Saturday, July 14, 2007. The groups are sponsoring an event
featuring the work of documentary photographer Carlan Tapp. Carlan has interviewed
and photographed Diné tribal members directly impacted by coal-power development in
the San Juan Basin – including the newly proposed Desert Rock coal-fired power plant.
Photo: Navajo Mine
CONTACT: Lori Goodman, Diné C.A.R.E., (970) 259-0199 Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance, (505) 360-8994 Brad Bartlett, Energy Minerals Law Center, (970) 247-9334