World’s Largest Coal Company, Seeking Expansion in Arizona, Faces Resistance from Native Tribes
By Leslie Macmillan, New York Times
KAYENTA, Ariz. — The world’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, is seeking federal approval to expand its mine on Navajo and Hopi land in northern Arizona, a move supported by tribal leaders. But many other tribe members say the expansion would destroy burial grounds and pre-Columbian ruins and are opposing it in court.
Like the Dakota Access oil pipeline project, the Kayenta mine dispute pits the rights of tribes against powerful industry and federal interests.
Peabody built its first mine on this coal-darkened plateau 50 years ago, and in the process dug up an adjacent American Indian village. The dig uncovered an “enormous body of knowledge” about ancient Indian tribes who flourished here three millenniums ago, according to Beth Sutton, a Peabody spokeswoman.
But Leland Grass, a Navajo horse trainer, called the dig a “desecration.” He and other tribe members complained that Peabody handed off 192 sets of human remains to an anthropology professor, destroyed ancient petroglyphs and archaeological ruins, and warehoused 1.2 million artifacts at Southern Illinois University, which helped conduct the dig.
Peabody’s mine plan has the backing of the official tribal governments because the original mine is one of the few sources of jobs and revenue on the impoverished reservations. Peabody has paid about $50 million per year to the Navajo and Hopi tribes since 1987, according to a federal report released in 2012, because the mine was built on tribal land.
But several powerful Navajo nongovernmental organizations, at odds with their leaders, have joined with the Sierra Club to try to curb the mine expansion, arguing the mine harms air and water quality and Peabody’s initial plan did not include enough protections for cultural resources like graves.
These groups have brought a lawsuit that has forced the government to undertake a Preservation Act study to identify burial grounds and sites of archaeological importance. For projects on or near tribal land, the government must consult with tribes.
The problem, tribal activists and preservation law experts say, is the permitting system is set up to usually favor the project proponents while giving short shrift to tribal concerns.
To Learn More:
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