Supplanting the Old With the New



On April 16, Peabody, the world’s largest private coal company, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.[ref]Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a company’s attempt under U.S. tax law, to decrease its debt in order to continue operation.[/ref] While the immediate cause was a failed speculative investment,[ref]Peabody took out heavy loans to acquire the Australian company Macarthur Coal to increase its metallurgical coal capacity. Yet, during this time the price of metallurgical coal (used in iron and steel production) slumped due to decreased global demand with China’s economic slowdown.[/ref] the larger cause is a decline in the coal industry due to cheapening renewable energy and natural gas (due to the fracking boom).[ref][/ref] Peabody leaves behind environmental damage in its mines. Based on Black Mesa, home to the largest coal deposit in the U.S., the Black Mesa Water Coalition is fighting to force Peabody to pay for its damage to the environment and communities. They are attempting to paving a just transition to a more ecologically sustainable economy with green jobs. For the Black Mesa Water Coalition, a just transition is achieved not simply by dismantling the old, but by replacing it with the new. Its vision of a just transition is ecological and economic sustainability centered and driven by the community. The path to a new truly green economy is being paved by replacing coal with renewable energy, building a local economy, and developing leadership and a movement.

Peabody’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows a restructuring of its debt so that it can be more sustainable. Peabody is trying to short-change its workers and the communities it has destroyed by not cleaning up the environmental damage it caused or paying the pension funds of its workers. However, the Black Mesa Water Coalition is demanding that Peabody establish a just transition fund as part of its bankruptcy agreement that would ensure that Peabody honors its obligations, plus provide a fund so that the impacted communities can transition to ecologically sustainable economies based on green jobs.

The Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) was formed after it was revealed that Peabody’s mining operations and the power generating stations were depleting its community’s water aquifers. To transport coal 275 miles from the Black Mesa Mine to the Mohave Generating Station, Peabody flowed a slurry of water from Black Mesa’s aquifers and coal through a pipeline. A second mine, the Kayenta Mine, provides power to the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), the largest coal-burning power plant in the western United States. NGS powers a pump that brings water from northern to central and southern Arizona. Water from Black Mesa's aquifers cool the plant.

Faced with depleting water sources, the Black Mesa Water Coalition successfully organized to prohibit Peabody from transporting its coal from the Black Mesa mine using the Navajo aquifer. They also shut down the Mohave Generating Station in 2005. Without a means of transport and a facility to receive their coal, Peabody was forced to shut down the Black Mesa Mine.[ref][/ref] Now, BMWC is pressuring the Navajo Generating Station to switch from coal to solar energy.

In order to exploit the 300 days of sunlight in Black Mesa, the BMWC wants Navajos to directly manufacture and install solar photovoltaic facilities on reclaimed mine land. To build a local economy, it is building Navajo capacity for wool production, revitalizing and strengthening local food systems, and educating communities about climate change. To develop leadership and strengthen the indigenous environmental movement, it is building regional, national, and international environmental justice alliances. Ultimately, it is the communities most affected that are the motivating force advocating for a just transition to an ecologically sustainable economy centered on the needs and desires of communities.

written by Song, Dae-Han (chief editor, World Current Report)