Under court order, OSM issues new enviro review of Navajo coal mine area

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining on Oct. 15 released for comment until Nov. 16 a Revised Environmental Assessment (EA), which amends an EA prepared by OSM in 2012, which was used to support the agency’s March 2012 approval of the Area IV North permit revision application to add mining area to the Navajo Mine in New Mexico.

On April 6, 2015, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado vacated OSM’s 2012 EA and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), and also vacated the agency’s March 2012, permit revision approval. In making the decision, the court concluded that OSM violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately consider the environmental impacts related to the combustion of coal to be mined as a result of its approval of the Area IV North permit revision application.

As directed by the court decision, the Revised EA evaluates the potential impacts of the combustion of the coal mined in Area IV North, and as a result of this analysis, OSM may reapprove the permittee’s (Navajo Transitional Energy Co.) proposed expansion into Area IV North of the Navajo Mine.

In 2005, prior mine owner BHP Navajo Coal Co. (BNCC) sought to expand mining operations into a 3,800-acre area of the Navajo Mine known as “Area IV North.” OSM approved the Permit Revision Application in 2005. In 2007, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné C.A.R.E.) and San Juan Citizens Alliance challenged OSM’s approval in the Colorado federal court. In 2010, the court issued a decision vacating OSMs approval of the mine plan and remanded the matter back to OSM. BNCC immediately ceased all mine preparation activities in Area IV North.

Between the 2005 OSM approval and the ruling in 2010, approximately 268 acres of the 3,800-acre resource area were disturbed for mine pit development and infrastructure in preparation of mining activities. Of that total, approximately 216 acres was for preparation of the area to be mined including developing the crossing of Cottonwood Arroyo, and approximately 52 acres was disturbed for power lines and ancillary roads.

In the April 6 decision from this year, the District Court vacated the EA/Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) and the 2011 Area IV North permit revision. The court’s decision noted that all parties agreed that OSM may be able to comply with NEPA relating to its consideration of the permit revision application by tiering to the comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the customer Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project, published May 1, 2015. Therefore, this EA incorporates by reference relevant sections of the EIS.

In 2011, BNCC submitted a proposal to revise its mine plan for Area IV North. The 2011 proposal was based on BNCC’s calculations of the amount of coal required to supply the Four Corners plant through July 6, 2016, at the historic coal consumption rate of 8.5 million tons per year required for the operations of Units 1 through 5. In 2012, OSM approved BNCC’s application and issued a revised permit.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.