Arizona and coal

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Arizona produces approximately 12 million tons of coal per year, all of which is extracted from the Black Mesa field in the northeastern part of the state, an area subject to Indian land leases. In 1992, tribal royalties from coal sales were $33 million. Black Mesa coal is burned at the Mohave Generating Station owned by Southern California Edison in southeastern Nevada, and is delivered via the nation's only long distance slurry pipeline.[1]

In addition to burning its own coal, Arizona imports coal from New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.[1] Coal-fired power plants produce approximately 23 percent of the electricity generated in Arizona. Arizona's average retail price of electricity is 8.24 cents per kilowatt hour, the 21st highest rate in the nation[2] In 2003, Arizona emitted 89 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, ranking it 24th in the nation overall.[3]

Citizen activism

Just Transition Coalition

Big Mountain Pt. 1

The Just Transition Coalition (JTC) was created to address the economic impact on the Navajo and Hopi tribal communities affected by the 2005 closures of the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada and the Black Mesa coal mine in Arizona. The coalition includes the Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth Foundation, Apollo Alliance, Black Mesa Water Coalition, To'Nizhoni Ani, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club.[4] The coalition has proposed that annual revenues from the sale of pollution credits from the Mohave plant be reinvested in renewable energy on tribal lands, such as wind and solar plants, as well as be used to help offset the economic burden of lost coal royalties and jobs.[5]

In the time since the Mohave plant closed, majority owner Southern California Edison (SCE) has accrued pollution allowances estimated at $30 million annually, which can be sold under the U.S. Acid Rain Program.[6] On January 11, 2006, the JTC filed a motion with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a “Just Transition” in response to the economic impact of the closures of Mohave and Black Mesa. The coalition proposed to direct 30 percent of the pollution credit proceeds to local villages and chapters to invest in solar, wind, and ecotourism, 10 percent for job retraining, 40 percent in alternative energy development and production, and 20 percent to tribal governments to help sustain programs cut due to loss of royalty income.[7]

In a series of unprecedented decisions favoring the interests of the JTC, the CPUC ordered SCE to place proceeds from the sale of its SO2 allowances into a special account to be used to fund renewable energy investment opportunities for the Hopi and Navajo, and rejected the company's argument that proceeds from these sales should go to ratepayers. The CPUC also requested proposals from the JTC regarding the use of the proceeds and scheduled a mediation seeking a mutual decision between interested parties.[8]

According to Honor the Earth, the coalition's plan is an opportunity to restore some environmental and economic justice to the Navajo and Hopi communities while also helping California meet its renewable energy portfolio through the purchase of clean, tribally-produced energy.[9]

Navajos Move Away From Coal

The Navajo Nation is moving toward a clean energy future noted an October 2010 report in the New York Times. A grassroots movement within the tribe is seeking to replace coal power with wind and solar power alternatives. The Navajo Nation occupies all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. It is the largest land area assigned primarily to a Native American jurisdiction within the United States and has a population of 300,000 people.

As of 2010 coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the Navajo Nation, as well as lands shared with the Hopi, accounted for 1,500 jobs and were a third of the tribe's annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

The grassroots movement has sprouted as a reaction to the environmental and human costs of coal use. Two coal mines on the reservation have shut down since 2005. The Black Mesa coal mine ceased operations because the plant where the coal was burnt was shut down. Coal mined on Navajo land is used to produce power for the state of California, where greenhouse gas emission reductions have taken place. As such, many Navajo believe that coal is a fuel of the past.

“It’s a new day for the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a group founded 22 years ago. “We can’t be trashing the land anymore.”

At the core of the movement is the belief that Navajo peoples ought not mine natural resources. Some Navajo spiritual guides have said that digging up the earth to retrieve resources is "tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land."[10]

Protesters Target Salt River Project's Coal-Fired Power Plant

On December 2, 2011 sixteen people were arrested at the Salt River Project (SRP) offices in Tempe, Arizona. The protesters demanded that SRP shut down the Navajo Generating Station. The protest was the third in three days, all targeting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a policy research group that focuses on building private-public partnerships. SRP lobbyist Russell Smolden is Arizona’s private sector chair in ALEC.[11]


Legislative issues

Navajo Nation passes green jobs legislation

In July 2009, the Navajo Nation became the first Native Nation to pass legislation promoting green jobs. The Navajo Council approved the legislation 62-1. One bill will create a new Navajo Green Economy Commission, which will oversee the approval and funding of small-scale, sustainable and low-polluting projects. A second bill will establish a Navajo Green Economy Fund, which creates an account for receiving federal, state, local, and private funds to make these green projects possible. For over a year, the Navajo Green Economy Coalition worked with Navajo Nation Speaker Lawrence T. Morgan to secure Council and community support for the legislation. The bills must be signed into law by President Joe Shirley, Jr.[12][13]

Congressional hearing focuses on Arizona coal plant closure

Leaders of three American Indian tribes said in a Congressional hearing on May 26, 2011 that closing a coal-fired power plant in northern Arizona would devastate their communities, leave hundreds without jobs and threaten water rights settlements.

Others that supported the closure spoke at the hearing on the role of Navajo Generating Station stating that the dire predictions are overblown. They urged Congress to transition the plant from coal to renewable energy to protect people's health and the environment.

Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta Mine contribute about $140 million in revenue and wages to the Navajo Nation, while the Hopi Tribe receives $13 million for its coal and water. Some 1,000 people are employed at the plant and the coal mine, the majority being American Indians.[14]

EPA releases list of 44 "high hazard" coal ash dumps

In response to demands from environmentalists as well as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, the EPA made public a list of 44 "high hazard potential" coal waste dumps. The rating applies to sites at which a dam failure would most likely cause loss of human life, but does not include an assessment of the likelihood of such an event. Arizona has 9 of the sites, more than any other state except North Carolina.[15]

The following table is derived from EPA's official list of Coal Combustion Residue (CCR) Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings. To see the full list of sites, see Coal waste.[16]

Company Facility Name Unit Name Location
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Ash Pond 4 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Ash Pond 1 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Ash Pond 3 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Scrubber Pond 2 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Scrubber Pond 1 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Evaporation 1 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Electric Power Cooperative Apache Generating Station Ash Pond 2 Cochise, AZ
Arizona Public Service Company Cholla Generating Station Bottom Ash Pond Joseph City, AZ
Arizona Public Service Company Cholla Generating Station Fly Ash Pond Joseph City, AZ

Proposed coal-fired power line

In June 2010 Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative proposed a controversial coal-fired power line that opponents claimed will destroy a unique grassland in southern Arizona that is home to nearly two dozen endangered or threatened species as well as a historic Spanish-land-grant ranch. They also claim this will displace jobs and ultimately raise utility rates.

"Once a power line is constructed, it can't be undone," said Arizona resident and Mountain Empire Energy Project member Gail Getzwiller.

Opponents argue that the power line has nothing to do with consumer energy needs. Instead they believe it is to be constructed for the benefit of Wildcat Silver, a Canada based mining company that operates mines in Southern Arizona.[17]

Proposed coal plants



Citizen groups

Coal lobbying groups

Power companies

Existing coal plants

Arizona has 16 operating coal-fired power units at six locations totaling 5,681 megawatts (MW).[18][19] None of these units is larger than 50MW.[20][21](To see a map of existing coal plants in the U.S., click here.)

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Four of these units are larger than 500MW.[22][23]

Major coal mines

For a list of coal mines in Arizona, go to Existing coal mines in Arizona

As of 2010 there were approximately 1 active coal mine in Arizona with production approximately 7,752 short tons per year.[24]

  • Kayenta Mine, Peabody Western Coal Company[25]
  • Black Mesa coal mine, Peabody Western Coal Company. Closed since 2005, Draft Environmental Impact Statement to expand mine operations re-activated as of May 2008.

Black Mesa mine expansion

Wally's video on Peabody

The Black Mesa coal mine in Arizona was operated by Peabody Energy for thirty years before being suspended in 2005.

In May 2008, the Office of Surface Mining re-activated the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Peabody’s plan to expand the Black Mesa mine and opened a public comment period that ends on July 7. On June 13, citizen groups requested a suspension or indefinite extension of the comment period in order to resolve a number of issues, including changes to the expansion plan since the original comment period in 2006, and to allow sufficient time for affected Native American tribes to comment. The changes in question include combining the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines into one life-of-mine permit, which will allow Peabody to mine until there is no coal left. In addition, there are concerns about the impact on the health of the local Navajo and Hopi people, as well as considerations arising from the cultural, environmental and religious significance of the land.[26][27]On June 24, OSM rejected the request for a suspension or extension of the public comment period.

On January 7, 2010, an administrative law judge of the Department of Interior withdrew Peabody Coal Company’s life-of-mine permit issued December 22, 2008 for operations at Black Mesa coal mine, and remanded the permit back to OSM. According to Judge Robert G. Holt, OSM violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to prepare a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (EIS) when Peabody changed the proposed action. Consequently, the final EIS "did not consider a reasonable range of alternatives, described the wrong affected environment baseline, and did not achieve the informed decision making and meaningful public comment required by NEPA.[28][29]



  1. 1.0 1.1 State Coal Profile: Arizona, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  2. "The Facts", America's Power, accessed June 2008.
  3. "Texas, Wyoming lead in emissions", USA Today, June 2, 2007.
  4. Just Transition Coalition
  5. Grand Canyon Trust
  6. Just Transition Coalition
  7. Christopher McLeod, "Seeking a Just Transition", Earth Island Journal, Summer 2006.
  8. Just Transition Coalition
  9. Honor the Earth press release
  10. "Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun" Mireya Navarro, New York Times, October 25, 2010.
  11. "Protesters Target Salt River Project's Coal-Fired Power Plant" Devin Browne, Fronteras, December 9, 2011.
  12., accessed August 2009.
  13. "Navajo Nation Council makes history, becomes first Nation in Indian Country to initiate Green Jobs," 21st Navajo Nation Council, July 22, 2009.
  14. "Arizona coal plant focus of congressional hearing" Felicia Fonesca, Bloomberg, May 25, 2011.
  15. Shaila Dewan, "E.P.A. Lists ‘High Hazard’ Coal Ash Dumps," New York Times, June 30, 2009.
  16. Fact Sheet: Coal Combustion Residues (CCR) - Surface Impoundments with High Hazard Potential Ratings, Environmental Protection Agency, June 2009.
  17. "Arizona's Other Problem: Will Big Coal Power Line Destroy Solar Boom, Endangered Grasslands, Pioneer Heritage?" Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post, June 21, 2010.
  18. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  19. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  20. Power Plants in Alaska,, accessed June 2008.
  21. Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration website, accessed May 2008.
  22. Power Plants in Arizona, accessed June 2008.
  23. Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration website, accessed May 2008.
  24. "Coal Production and Number of Mines by State, County, and Mine Type, 2010" U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2010.
  25. Major U.S. Coal Mines, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  26. Black Mesa Water Coalition
  27. Black Mesa Project Environmental Impact Statement
  28. "Department of the Interior judge vacates a controversial permit", Carol Berry, Indian Country Today, January 11, 2010.
  29. "Victory for Black Mesa – Peabody Coal Mining Permit Denied", It's Getting Hot in Here website, January 8, 2010.
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