Bush’s dirty tricks campaign for Peabody Coal
In the backrooms of energy deals,
Peabody takes on the smell of Enron
Brenda Norrell 

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration intervened in a Navajo Nation federal lawsuit against Peabody Coal, asking the Supreme Court to overturn an Appeals Court ruling which could yield millions of dollars in lost revenue for the tribe, following a conspiracy between the Interior Department and Peabody Coal.

Now, as Enron collapses and billions remain unaccounted for in mismanaged Indian royalty funds, Bush’s Interior Department, under the guidance of Gale Norton, has gone a step further.

The Interior has given Peabody Energy an award for “timely reporting of production and royalty data.”

With the federal lawsuit pending, the Interior has presented Peabody with the Mineral Revenues Stewardship Award.

Peabody Coal royalty payments are the precise basis of the Navajo Nation’s lawsuit against Peabody. A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in August the Interior Department violated its trust responsibility when it engaged in backdoor deals with Peabody and diminished Navajo royalties in 1985.

Currently, however, the Bush administration says a ruling against Peabody could be too costly and lead to rulings against other energy companies. The U.S. Justice Department has intervened.

"The decision below will encourage the filing of damages claims against the United States for breach of trust," Solicitor General Ted Olson writes in his March 15 brief.

"At a minimum, such a development will subject the United States to costly litigation."

In the federal lawsuit, the Navajo Nation produced evidence that Peabody engaged in a conspiracy with then-Secretary of Interior Donald Hodel to prevent Navajos from receiving fair payment for coal mined on Black Mesa in Arizona.

It was during the discovery phase of another federal lawsuit that documents surfaced and exposed meetings between Hodel, Peabody and other energy barons, without the presence of the Navajo Nation.

Defendants include Southern California Edison Company and the Salt River Project in Arizona. The Salt River Project is accused of trying to involve the Arizona Congressional delegation in preventing Navajos from gaining fair payment.

There is proof that evidence was destroyed.

The Navajo Nation’s evidence shows Peabody engaged a friend of Hodel, Peabody lobbyist Stanley Hulett, to meet with and convince the Interior Secretary not to approve the 20 percent coal rate recommended by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Navajo Nation seeks $600 million in actual damages and $1 billion in punitive damages for malicious and reckless behavior and costs. The Appeals Court said it will be up to a lower court to determine the award amount.

Navajo President Kelsey Begaye pointed out that many Navajo children still use kerosene lanterns to read by as Navajo coal lights up the homes of the wealthy in the Southwest.

"While the defendants reap huge and illicit profits using Navajo coal to generate electricity for homes and businesses in Southern California, Las Vegas and Arizona, thousands of Navajo homes are still without electricity.”

With Navajo homes surrounded by coal mining and power plants, the lawsuit states, "For many years, the Navajo Nation has served as an energy colony of the United States.”

Peabody Energy Co., among the largest coal companies in the world, received the Interior's Mineral Revenues Stewardship Award in April. The Interior award celebrated Peabody for assisting the Interior Department with re-engineering its minerals management reporting system to an Internet-based function.

News of the Interior’s award to Peabody was published in Peabody’s hometown newspaper, the St. Louis Business Journal.

The award recognizes the “company's exceptional financial reporting” from its mines on Indian and federal lands in Wyoming, Montana, Arizona and Colorado.

Peabody also released a 30-minute film, “Miracle on Black Mesa.” The promotional claims the film reveals how coal mining is “balancing reverence for the earth with the need for economic development on tribal lands.”

Navajo elders at Big Mountain, Ariz., resisting relocation, like Roberta Blackgoat, however, say coal mining is gouging out the liver of Mother Earth and all humanity will suffer

Last year Peabody’s surface mines shipped more than 120 million tons of coal.