MESA-- Peabody Coal is confident a new water source can be found and
keep before 2005 and the Black Mesa Mine can can be kept open.
The mine, owned by a
Peabody Energy subsidiary, converts all its coal into a powder-water
mixture (slurry) that is pumped 273 miles to Southern California
Edison's Mohave Generating Station at Laughlin, Nev.
For about three decades
Peabody has pumped the necessary water from eight deep wells that also
serve nearby residents. But the Navajo Nation, the Hopi Tribe, the
utility and the mine want to find another source since the wells tap the
abundant high-quality N Aquifer.
The problem is that
Edison must have the new source by Dec. 31, 2005. Without the water, the
ground-up coal can not be pumped to Laughlin, so the 1,570 mega-watt
power plant would have to shut down.
The financially troubled
California utility noted the problem in a notice published Nov. 9.
And the fear of losing
several hundred high-paying jobs caused the United Mine Workers of
America Local 1620 and the reservation union council, the Nal Nishii
Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, to raise its concerns with the tribal
Government Services Committee on Tuesday.
The miners average pay is
about $45,000 a year, or eight times the reservation average, according
to Beth Sutton, Peabody's spokeswoman.
"We are confident
that a solution can be found because operating Black Mesa is in the best
interest of both tribes and the people who need the electricity,"
Sutton said Wednesday.
Another problem is the
Navajo Nation's $600 million lawsuit against the U.S. Interior
Department for a 1987 decision by then Secretary Don Hodel to revise the
royalty rate. The tribe wanted 20 percent instead of the standard
federal 12.5 percent rate he approved after, the tribe charged, third
parties secretly interfered.
If the Navajo Nation
drops the breach of trust suit, the Interior Department is willing to
operate a new major waterline from Lake Powell to Black Mesa, with
Edison paying for it, according to the labor council's president,
He said Edison then would
be investing at least $800 million, and possibly up to $1.3 billion, in
the new water line, rebuilding the worn out slurry line to Laughlin, and
adding air pollution control equipment to improve the emissions from
Mohave's big chimneys. The air pollution portion will cost an estimated
$560 million, according to Edison's notice to the U.S. Securities and
Exchange Commission. It will consist of scrubbers, a bag house and
Sutton said Peabody's
leases with the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe provide for a grand total
of 670 million tons of coal to be removed and more than half already has
been dug up. What is left is sufficient, she said, to supply both Mohave
and the Navajo Generating Station east of Page for the expected life
spans of the two plants. The Arizona station gets its coal from Black
Mesa's neighbor, the Kayenta Mine, and it is shipped by electric
railroad to the Le Chee Chapter plant on the southern edge of Lake
The Black Mesa lease
expires in 2005, but can be extended to 2020, while the Kayenta lease
will expire in 2011, but also can be extended to 2026, Sutton said.
Peabody employs 265
people at Black Mesa, Sutton said. According to Oliver, about 200 of
them belong to Local 1620. Another local covers the 15 or so employees
of the Black Mesa Pipeline Company, he added. About 300 of the Kayenta
Mine's workers belong to UMWA Local 1924, Oliver said.
provided to the Government Services Committee included historical and
projected schedules for Edison to fulfill a consent decree's terms. Last
year the Hopi Tribe agreed to provide $50 million towards the new water
line from the lake, the schedule said.
To keep from falling
behind, Edison must file its plans with the California Public Utilities
Commission by the end of January.
Oliver's schedule shows
the consent decree requiring a firm contract to design the air pollution
control facilities by March 1, 2003 and within six months after that a
contract to buy the equipment. Construction must start by April 1, 2004.
The first of the two 785 mega-watt units must be finished by July 1,
2005, followed six months later by the second 785 mega-watt unit.
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