Navajo Coal Mine Expansion Challenge

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 U.S. 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.

When the federal Office of Surface Mining put forth a plan to expand Navajo Mine, allowing the extraction of 12.7 million additional tons of coal from the 13,000-acre mine, we sued. In 2015, we won, and that coal is still in the ground.

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.