The Kayenta Mine in 2008
Photo: Doc Searls (Flickr)

When it comes to Arizona’s embattled Navajo Generating Station, groups on both sides can’t stop, won’t stop.

The major coal power plant is set to shut down by the end of next year, but the Peabody Energy-owned mine supplying said coal isn’t. In fact, the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement last year renewed the Kayenta Mine’s permit until July 2020—months after the plant’s owners announced its impending closure. With no disclosed plan to sell the coal elsewhere, this renewal seems to support keeping the power plant open.

Now, some environmental groups representing members of the Navajo Nation—like the Black Mesa Water Coalition and Diné CARE—are suing.

They filed the lawsuit last week against the federal agency in the District Court of Arizona under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. They’re not only alleging the Interior Department illegally approved this permit; they’re also demanding the department take steps to begin cleaning the site up.

“For the past 50 years, Peabody has locked up these lands for a single-industrial use,” said Adella Begaye, president of Navajo group Diné CARE, in a press release, “and we have seen nothing from federal regulators explaining how our lands will be repaired and our water restored when Peabody stops mining and walks away from this operation in December of 2019.”

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This is the latest in a string of moves both to stop the coal plant’s operations and, on the other side, to keep it running. Last month, the Hopi Tribe filed a separate lawsuit against the Central Arizona Project (otherwise known as CAP, a statewide water distribution system that’s the coal station’s main customer) with the goal of keeping the plant open. A couple weeks ago, more drama ensued after the CAP moved forward on solidifying new power sources in anticipation of the plant’s closure.

Tribal members are deeply torn over the power plant and mine. Both supply jobs to the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe—so much so that leaders of both are trying their hardest to keep them open. Otherwise, the economic impacts could be devastating. Ninety percent of the plant’s employees are Navajo, while 99 percent of mine workers are Native American.

None of this, however, can change reality: Coal is dying.