Victory! Navajo Coal Mine Expansion Challenge (CO, NM, AZ, UT)
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth. The life-cycle of coal - from mining to combustion to disposal of coal waste - creates significant land, water, and air pollution, which in turn cause environmental degradation and harm human health and welfare. By contributing to the crisis of climate change, coal harms humanity and the planet as a whole. And because many coal mines and plants, like the Navajo Mine in northwestern New Mexico and the Four Corners Power Plant, are sited near communities that lack political clout, they disproportionately harm disadvantaged and marginalized populations.
The monstrous Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant exemplify the destructiveness of coal-based energy production. Sited on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation, the mine - which feeds the power plant - and the power plant are one of the largest and most polluting coal-complexes in the nation. The power plant is the largest emitter of nitrogen oxides in the United States and is among the nation’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution, and mercury. Yet in nearly a half-century of operations, the mine and power plant have evaded any meaningful environmental review.
We are committed to stopping the expansion of the mine, which will force the power plant into early retirement. We also are continuing to fight a previously-approved 700-acre expansion of the coal mine.
In January 2012, on behalf of citizens groups, we submitted comments to the Office of Surface Mining, opposing the proposed 830-acre expansion of the Navajo Mine without in-depth analysis of the environmental impacts that such an expansion would cause.
Over our objections, OSM approved the expansion without conducting an adequate environmental analysis pursuant to NEPA, thus we filed a lawsuit challenging the agency's decision.
In July 2012, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement announced plans to undertake a single “Environmental Impact Statement and Endangered Species Act” consultation for the entire mine-to-mouth coal complex at Four Corners Power Plant, in northwestern New Mexico along the San Juan River. It will be the first comprehensive environmental analysis of the entire coal complex’s impacts in its 50-year history, and will likely take several years to complete.
In January 2013, we defeated an effort by the mine operators to dismiss our lawsuit.
In June 2014, on behalf of local community, regional and national environmental groups, we submitted comments identifying significant flaws in the Department of the Interior’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project located on Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. The proposed action in the DEIS would allow the 52–year-old Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine coal complex to continue operations from 2016-2041. We call on the Department of the Interior to take a hard look at the cultural, health, biological, and climate costs of one of the nation’s dirtiest coal plants, and to give real consideration to clean energy alternatives before allowing another quarter century of coal combustion and mining.
Victory! In March 2015, a federal district judge in Colorado rejected the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) plan to expand coal mining at the Navajo Mine. We had sued OSM in 2012 over the illegal plan, which would have allowed strip mining of 12.7 million tons of coal from the 13,000-acre Navajo Mine.
In early April 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ordered OSM to withdraw its unlawful approval of the mine expansion. Shortly thereafter, the strip mine owners, with the support of the power plant operator, appealed the decision and sought an emergency stay to allow strip mining to continue to protect mining revenues. We opposed the stay, noting the tremendous harm to public health. The Tenth Circuit then denied the stay request.
(WELC project #675)