US federal court rejects Navajo coal mine expansion plan

4 March 2015 (Last Updated March 4th, 2015 18:30)

Plans by the US Office of Surface Mining's (OSM) to expand coal operations at Navajo Mine near the San Juan River in north-western New Mexico have been rejected by a federal district judge in Colorado, US.

Navajo Mine

Plans by the US Office of Surface Mining's (OSM) to expand coal operations at Navajo Mine near the San Juan River in north-western New Mexico have been rejected by a federal district judge in Colorado, US.

The plan was submitted in 2012 by Navajo Transitional Energy, Navajo Nation-owned company to carry out surface mining at the site.

Judge John L Kane ruled that the mining review by the Office of Surface Mining ignored potential environmental impact of the expansion, which had proposed for strip mining 12.7 million tonnes of coal.

The 13,000-acre Navajo Mine in north-western New Mexico feeds coal to the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, one of the most polluting coal plants in the US.

Following the approval, Navajo and conservation groups sued OSM amid accusations that the expansion would harm the environment.

Impacts from the mine expansion have included release of toxic mercury pollution from burning the mined coal at the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, which burns the fuel exclusively from the Navajo Mine and provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"With this decision, we hope OSM seizes the opportunity to address the legacy of pollution from the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant."

Western Environmental Law Center's Shiloh Hernandez said: "Coal mined at the Navajo Mine is burned at Four Corners Power Plant, causing widespread impacts to the air, land, waters and people in the region.

"The court's ruling now gives OSM the opportunity to tell the whole truth about coal impacts and to rectify the legacy of pollution from the Navajo Mine and Four Corners complex."

San Juan Citizens Alliance's Mike Eisenfeld said: "This is the second time in five years that OSM has been caught violating NEPA, a law designed to protect people and the environment.

"With this decision, we hope OSM seizes the opportunity to address the legacy of pollution from the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant."

In the San Juan Basin air is polluted, water is poisoned, and endangered species are being driven to extinction from acitivities.

Plaintiffs involved in the litigation include Diné CARE, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Amigos Bravos, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club and represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.


Image: An aerial view of the Navajo Mine in north-western New Mexico, with Four Corners Power Plant in the background. Photo: courtesy of Ecoflight.