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Scrapbook: Sierra Club Co-Sponsors 'Water is Life' Forum with Tribal Partners

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January 05, 2012

Sierra Club Co-Sponsors 'Water is Life' Forum with Tribal Partners


The Sierra Club and the Navajo grassroots group Black Mesa United co-sponsored a "Water is Life" forum in Flagstaff, Arizona, in mid-December. More than 30 residents of Black Mesa attended the forum, which focused on pollution from Peabody Energy's Kayenta and Black Mesa coal mines to the water supply for the Forest Lake Navajo.

"Forest Lake is the closest Navajo Chapter to the Kayenta and Black Mesa mines," says Sierra Club organizer Andy Bessler, below left, who helped put together the forum. "Over 80 families live within Peabody's leasehold, where regular blasting pollutes the air, toxic water pollutes springs and washes, and groundwater pumping depletes the local aquifer."

Black Mesa residents had requested an update on what the Sierra Club and other groups are doing in response to Peabody's request for a mine permit renewal on Black Mesa, as well as expected EPA action to clean up the Navajo Generating Station, below right, near Page, Arizona.


Thanks to the work of the Sierra Club, allied groups, and tribal partners, the Black Mesa Mine is currently idle. But the Kayenta Mine, below, continues to send millions of tons of coal to the Navajo Generating Station via an extensive train and conveyer belt system.

Photo courtesy of Doc Searls

Fern Bernally, a board member of Black Mesa United, welcomed everyone to the forum, and Black Mesa resident Maria Gladue translated from English to Navajo throughout the day for the many elders present who spoke only Navajo. That's Gladue, below, talking about the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign's recent public service ad highlighting the adverse impacts of coal power on public health.


Dr. Daniel Higgins, below, an Arid Lands Research Scientist from the University of Arizona, presented an overview of his study demonstrating a clear link between the diminishing water supply in the Navajo Aquifer and Peabody's 40 years of groundwater pumping for their mine operations. He explained that the federal government's own monitoring data shows that the feds should declare "material damage" to the aquifer.


Bessler followed with a discussion of comments submitted to the federal government by the Sierra Club, Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine CARE, To' Nizhoni Ani ("Beautiful Water Speaks") and the Center for Biological Diversity. "I outlined the Club's concerns about Peabody's ongoing mining on Black Mesa and updated everyone on the status of the Navajo Generating Station and the actions EPA will be taking to clean it up," he says.


The Sierra Club has been working for years with tribal partners to end coal mining on Black Mesa. Above and below, a 2010 rally supported by the Sierra Club in the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock, calling for and end to Peabody's water withdrawals for their Black Mesa mining operations.


Don Yellowman of the grassroots group Forgotten People gave a talk in Navajo about natural resource extraction on Black Mesa, describing how coal mining and the Navajo Generating Station have contributed to environmental injustice for local communities. Yellowman made an impassioned appeal for renewable energy as a better, greener economic alternative to coal.

A short film produced by Black Mesa United, Voices from Black Mesa, was screened during lunch (provided by the Sierra Club and Black Mesa United), and tribal leaders like Percy Deal, President of the Navajo's Hard Rock Chapter, gave local perspectives after the screening.

The forum closed with a presentation by former Hopi Chairman Ben Nuvamsa on how Peabody's lease agreements exploit local tribes. He discussed Peabody's bid to re-open leases on Black Mesa that were suspended by a racketeering and corruption lawsuit brought by the Navajo Nation (recently settled), and Indian water rights as they relate to coal extraction on Black Mesa.

"Folks left better-informed about the issues that are affecting them on a daily basis," says Bessler, "and several elders asked for another forum this spring."

Learn more about Black Mesa and the Sierra Club's work with tribal partners to move beyond coal and bring about a just transition to a green economy.



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