A Navajo Nation regional council is asking the U.S. Department of the Interior to complete a significant permit review at the Kayenta Mine on its northern Arizona lands. IEEFA believes such a review would be a significant step forward in efforts to clean up a mine that has been closed for more than two years.
Peabody Western Coal Company (PWCC) was the sole operator of Kayenta Mine, which supplied coal to the 2,409-megawatt Navajo Generating Station for more than 45 years. Reclamation work has been slow since its closure in August 2019. The lack of progress has alarmed the local community, prompting the push for greater oversight by Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), the agency responsible for overseeing cleanup work at U.S. coal mines.
The degree of local concern is evident in the resolution adopted recently by the Dził Yijiin Regional Council, one of the Navajo Nation’s governing bodies, which urges that “… Navajo Nation be given all rightful authority under such designation to ensure that Peabody Western Coal Company completes reclamation of lands and waters at the mine, including restoration of the N-Aquifer, to ‘as good condition as received,’ as required by the terms of Peabody’s lease, and under federal laws and regulations…”
The regional council resolution follows on the heels of three requests submitted by Peabody to OSMRE seeking bond releases and termination of jurisdictions (TOJs) for areas at Kayenta that it says have been fully reclaimed. The requests cover work at 6,650 acres of land. If approved, the coal company would receive a $24.8 million bond refund.
The Navajo chapters that make up the Dził Yijiin Regional Council are increasingly worried that the reclamation work is not being carried out correctly, and they are pushing for greater oversight. Local groups point out that the cleanup standards haven’t been updated in years, fueling unease that the work may be deemed complete while actually falling woefully short of cleanup requirements. The concerns have prompted the Dził Yijiin Regional Council, to request a full review, or what is known as a “significant permit revision.” The initiative is supported by the Navajo communities near the Kayenta region.
The resolution submitted by the regional council outlines a series of shortcomings in Peabody’s ongoing reclamation work, buttressing its call for greater federal oversight. Among the main issues:
- The AZ-0001C permit, approved July 6, 1990, contains the original reclamation plan for Kayenta Mine. The council argues there is a need to revise the 30-year-old permit to reflect improvements in reclamation science and practices.
- Peabody has completed only minor permit revisions rather than undergoing a full permit review since the announcement of the end of mining in 2019. The revisions exclude public participation, which the council considers to be vital.
- PWCC has filed an application to renew the AZ-0001F permit (2015-2020) for an additional five years (2020-2025) without updating the longstanding reclamation plan to reflect the cessation of activity at the Kayenta Mine. The council argues that the closure of the mine should prompt a significant permit revision.
- A full permit review may be the last opportunity to thoroughly examine the reclamation plans and engage the community before bonds are released.
IEEFA shares the concerns of the Navajo community and agrees that a full review of the ongoing reclamation efforts at the Kayenta Mine is warranted and necessary.
Wilda Anagal ([email protected]) is an IEEFA/Grand Canyon Trust Research Fellow, Southwest U.S. Energy Transition.
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