FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Native American and conservation groups sued the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) in federal court in Colorado on Thursday for withholding records relating to Peabody Energy’s coal-mining operations on tribal lands in northeast Arizona. To date, the agency has refused to publicly release records relating to Peabody’s coal-mining operations — including a copy of a current, valid operating permit for Peabody’s mining. The lawsuit was brought under the Freedom of Information Act.
“For decades, OSM has quietly issued permits to Peabody in a way that has thwarted meaningful public involvement and community understanding of Peabody’s mine operations,” said Nikke Alex, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “OSM’s permitting actions have a direct and irreparable impact on our community. These records must be released to the public.”
Peabody, the largest coal-mine operator in the world, runs the 40,000-acre Kayenta Mine and adjacent 18,000-acre Black Mesa Mine on Navajo Nation and Hopi tribal lands in northeastern Arizona. On April 9, citizens submitted a FOIA request to OSM for records related to the agency’s renewal of Peabody’s Kayenta Mine operating permit. On June 4, OSM’s office in Denver, Colorado ended the public comment period for Peabody’s renewal permit without releasing the requested records (including a copy of Peabody’s operating permit).
“The records requested under FOIA are integral to public understanding of OSM’s renewal of Peabody’s operating permit,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center. “These records should be readily available for public release by the agency. Instead, citizens are forced to take legal action to acquire Peabody’s permitting records.”
“By denying and delaying public release of the operating permit, OSM protects Peabody and unjustly shuts out impacted communities and the public in Peabody’s permitting process,” said Cynthia Pardo of the Sierra Club’s Plateau Group. “By filing this lawsuit with our tribal partners, we are seeking greater transparency and accountability by the Obama administration for Navajo and Hopi communities impacted by Peabody’s coal mining on Black Mesa.”
Peabody’s Black Mesa mine slurried coal via a 273-mile pipeline to the Mohave Generating Station from 1970 to 2005. The company’s Kayenta mine has supplied coal to the Navajo Generating Station since 1973. Both mines have caused significant hydrological impacts due to massive groundwater depletion from Peabody’s historic coal-slurry and related mine operations.
“Peabody’s coal-mining operations will contribute to global warming-related droughts and exacerbate the drying effects of groundwater depletion on wells, springs and creeks,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “OSM’s inability to produce a valid operating permit for Peabody raises a whole host of questions. This lawsuit will force full disclosure.”
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Black Mesa Water Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Dine CARE), Sierra Club and TO’ Nizhoni Ani. Plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys Brad Bartlett and Travis Stills of the Energy Minerals Law Center in Durango, Colo.