Here are some issues facing reservation American Indians
Natural Resource Mining and Pollution
Mineral wealth has proved a mixed blessing for some western Indian reservations, raising questions of balancing development and environment. Beginning as early as 1900 with the discovery of oil on Osage land, nonrenewable resource development has unleashed some of the most environmentally destructive forms of exploitation. Today, mine and drilling sites, roads and machinery, tailing piles and settling ponds threaten tribal land, water, air, health, and lifestyles. Inequitable leases and federal, state, and tribal government mismanagement have compounded these problems. Despite efforts by pan-Indian organizations like the Council of Energy Resource Tribes to balance use and protection of resources, mining and oil and gas exploration has scarred thousands of acres with minimal protection for inhabitants.
The Navajo and Hopi reservations in Utah and Arizona provide two examples. When Congress enlarged the Navajo Reservation with the Aneth extension in southeast Utah in 1933, it reserved 37.5 percent of any future oil or gas royalties for Utah Navajos, to be administered in trust by the state. The remaining 62.5 percent went to the Navajo Nation. Since the 1956 discovery of oil at Aneth and Montezuma Creek, Utah, oil companies have drilled 577 wells and pumped an estimated 370.7 million barrels of oil and another 339,100 cubic feet of natural gas from the area. In the process they contaminated ground water and area springs by injecting carbon dioxide and saltwater into wells to increase production. In 1990, there were ninety-nine spills of oil, saltwater, and chemicals in the Aneth fields, damaging 36,622 acres. Oil companies have been lax in cleaning up their sites or compensating Navajos. "There are no environmental rules or regulations here," complained Navajo councilman Andrew Tso. "No one cares about the people who live here, just the oil."
On the other hand, oil companies have paid at least $180 million in royalties, including $60 million to the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. But little has trickled down to Aneth residents. Seventy-five percent of the 6,500 Utah Navajos in the region have no electricity or running water. Most make a hundred-mile round trip each week to haul in water. Recent audits disclosed that state and tribal mismanagement, poor business decisions, fraud, and bribes have bankrupted the Utah Navajo Trust Fund. In addition, the Navajo Nation has not returned to its Utah chapter houses a fraction of the oil revenues it collects. And now oil production in Aneth is steadily falling. In 1994, the Navajo Nation Council created its own Navajo Oil and Gas Company and imposed a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in Aneth, calling for the enforcement of federal environmental protection laws. The drilling continues.
The second example involves British-owned Peabody Coal Company which operates two huge strip mines on the remote and sacred Black Mesa, leased from the Hopi and Navajo tribes. The leases - dating back to 1964 and renegotiated in 1987 because of abysmal royalty rates - allow them to mine 670 million tons of high-grade, low-sulfur coal from a 64,858 acre site. Each year, 7 million tons of coal from the Kayenta Mine is shipped by electric railroad 78 miles to the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona. Coal from the smaller Black Mesa Mine travels 273 miles in three days through an eighteen-inch diameter coal slurry pipeline around the Grand Canyon to the Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, Nevada. Each ton of coal requires 270 gallons of water. Each day Peabody pumps 3.9 million gallons of water from the Navajo Sandstone Aquifer, 3,000 feet below Black Mesa and the Hopi Reservation - more than 1.4 billion gallons each year to transport 5 million tons of coal. At Mohave, the water is separated and used in the power plant's cooling towers, while the coal fuels the 1,580-megawatt plant operated by Southern California Edison for two million electric customers in southern California and Nevada. Almost as afterthought, both the Navajo and Mohave generating plants return a sulfur dioxide haze that hangs over the Grand Canyon and Four Corners region.
Mindful of the employment and the $9 million they receive in annual coal royalties (70 percent of their tribal budget), Hopis are still critical of the use of their water to slurry coal. "We're not against southern California getting electricity," Hopi Chairman Vernon Masayesva said in 1990. "They could still benefit from our coal resources. It just seems foolish to be using water as a transportation method from a desert climate where you have an average rainfall of six to seven inches." Despite findings to the contrary by a controversial federal environmental impact statement and a 1993 independent study, Hopis insist that pumping is dropping the region's water table, drying up sacred springs and washes that once carried water to their fields. Fifty miles from Black Mesa at Moenkopi village (Hopi, meaning "a place where water flows"), farmer Sam Shingoitewa observed, "We know that our water table is lowering. Of course, some of it is existing because of present conditions, no rain and all that. But if they weren't doing it, there would be some water running down the wash right now." Hopis petitioned the federal government to exercise its trust responsibility and withhold Peabody's permanent operating permit until the company quit pumping or examined alternate water sources. After Arizonan Bruce Babbitt became Interior secretary, Peabody announced in 1994 it was considering a ninety-mile pipeline to lift water from Lake Powell for the slurry pipeline.