OSM: No significant impact from mine sale

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 7, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: A bullet-riddled sign states which way Navajo Mine is along Navajo Route 3005 south of Ojo Amarillo, N.M. On Oct 31, Navajo Transitional Energy Corporation, signed purchase agreements with BHP-Billiton to acquire Navajo Mine.

BOTTOM: The dragline excavator dwarfs a Navajo Mine dump truck, bottom left, on Saturday in Burnham, N.M. On Oct 31, Navajo Transitional Energy Corporation, signed purchase agreements with BHP-Billiton to acquire Navajo Mine.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has found no significant impact from the Navajo Transitional Energy Company's acquisition or transfer permit of Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal.

This is according to Rick Williamson, manager for the Western Region-OSM Indian Program Branch, who on Nov. 1 issued the FONSI report, which also found that there was no need for a draft environmental impact statement on the transfer from BHP to NTEC.

Last week on Oct. 31, NTEC and BHP Billiton signed final purchase agreements for NTEC to acquire Navajo Mine (see separate story). Williamson's FONSI report comes in response to an environmental assessment that analyzes the potential environmental impacts of transferring the Navajo mine permit.Ê

"Based upon OSM's review of the attached EA and the supporting documents, I have determined that the proposed action is not a major federal action that will have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment individually or cumulatively with other actions within the region," Williamson said.

He added that no environmental effects meet the definition of significance in context or intensity, as outlined by the federal regulation CFR 1508.27. "Therefore, an EIS is not required," he said.

According to Williamson, no operation changes result and no revision to the mine permit or approved mining and reclamation plan is proposed other than the "ministerial changes to the ownership formation," which is NTEC holding the mining permit to Navajo Mine.

"The approval of the transfer of Navajo Mine Permit NM-003F is a site-specific action involving lands that are entirely within the Navajo Nation," he said. "The effects of the action have been analyzed at the local and regional scale and do not have national or international importance."

He added that based on the 10 significance criteria outlined within the federal regulations at 40 CFR 1508.27, the proposed permit transfer will not result in significant beneficial or adverse impacts, but will have direct and indirect impacts on the Navajo, local and regional economies.

Under the degree in which the proposed action affects public health or safety, Williamson wrote that the transfer of the mine permit to NTEC would not change how the approved mining and reclamation plan would be implemented because there are no revisions to the currently approved mining and reclamation plan.

"OSM determined only socioeconomic resources and environmental justice are potentially affected by the proposed action," Williamson said.

Regarding whether the transfer of the mine permit will impact the geographic area, such as proximity to historical or culture resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, Williamson went on to state that such resources aren't located within Navajo Mine.

"The proposed action is principally an administrative action that will not change how the approved mining and reclamation plan is implemented at Navajo Mine and will not affect local or regional wetlands," he said adding that measures protecting historical or cultural resources are already in place through a programmatic agreement for Navajo Mine.

"These protective measures would not change as a consequence of he proposed action and have been previously evaluated under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act; no impacts to historic or cultural resources are predicted," he added.

Another possible concern Williamson highlighted in the FONSI report was the degree in which the possible effects on the human environment are highly uncertain or involve unique or unknown risks. Aside from knowing predicted impacts to socioeconomic resources and environmental justice are likely to be small and not considered significant, Williamson said, "The effects of surface coal mining and reclamation at the Navajo Mine are well known and documented with over 40 years of operation history. Therefore, the effects do not involve unique or unknown risks."

For more information on FONSI and Environment Assessment reports, visit: http://www.wrcc.osmre.gov/Current_Initiatives/Navajo_Mine/Permit_Transfer.shtm.

Navajo Mine is located on approximately 33,600 acres of land leased by the tribe and located directly on tribal lands. It has provided coal to the Four Corners Power Plant for the last 50 years, and will continue to do so 15 years beyond 2015 with NTEC's purchase of Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton.

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