Victory for Earth and Community in the Navajo Nation

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This week, an administrative law judge for the Department of Interior issued an historic decision revoking Peabody Coal Company’s permit for its Black Mesa and Kayenta coal mines, effecting a precedent-setting victory in the decades-long struggle for environmental justice on Black Mesa. The decision also signals that while the Obama Administration still has its work cut out for it, it has nevertheless departed from the Bush Administration’s wholesale support for fossil fuel based projects — the December 2008 Black Mesa permit was one of Bush’s many 11th hour dirty energy permits.

Judge Holt ruled that because the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) failed to issue a supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project, after Peabody revised its plans for the project, OSM’s Final Environmental Impact Statement did not comply with the law. The judge thereby revoked the 2008 permit, which was based on the faulty Final EIS, and remanded it to OSM for revision. 

Wahleah Johns, the co-director of Black Mesa Water Coalition — a Women’s Earth Alliance project partner — spoke to the significance of the decision. “As a community member of Black Mesa I am grateful for Judge Holt’s decision. For 40 years our sacred homelands and people have borne the brunt of coal mining impacts, from relocation to depletion of our only drinking water source. This ruling is an important step towards restorative justice for Indigenous communities who have suffered at the hands of multinational companies like Peabody Energy. This decision is also precedent-setting for all other communities who struggle with the complexities of NEPA laws and OSM procedures in regards to environmental protection.” 

The decision is only part of the larger effort towards healing, for land and communities. Wahleah reminds us that “we also cannot ignore that irreversible damage of coal mining industries continues on the land, water, air, people and all living things.” 

Women’s Earth Alliance honors the tireless work of women like Wahleah Johns and her Navajo and Hopi colleagues, whose persistence in advocating for environmental sanctity and cultural sovereignty yields game-changing successes like this decision.