| August 6, 2003
CONTACT: Brian Segee, SW Public Lands Director (520) 623-5252 x308
More Information: Center's Mining and Drilling Program, Zuni Salt Lake Coalition
VICTORY AT ZUNI SALT LAKE!
TUCSON, AZ — In an astounding victory for environmental protection and preservation of sacred sites, Phoenix-based utility Salt River Project (SRP) has announced that it is abandoning its plans to develop the proposed Fence Lake coal strip mine in western New Mexico. SRP announced on August 4th that they will relinquish permits and coal leases acquired for the mine, which would have provided electricity for SRP’s customers in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
In order to suppress fugitive dust emissions, the Fence Lake mine would have required the pumping of millions of gallons of water from aquifers connected to the ecologically unique and fragile Zuni Salt Lake, a central religious and culture site for the Zuni Pueblo and many other Southwestern tribes. Hydrological studies conducted by the federal government and others have repeatedly found that such pumping would pose grave risks to the Salt Lake, which averages only three to five feet in depth. Additionally, the mine would have obliterated thousands of acres of remote and beautiful grasslands inhabited by golden eagles, prairie dogs, pronghorn and other species.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has been involved in the struggle to save Zuni Salt Lake and defeat the Fence Lake Mine since the mid-1990’s, when CBD joined with the Pueblo of Zuni in challenging the original state permit granted to operate the mine, objecting to federal environmental analysis concluding that the mine would have no impact on the Zuni Salt Lake, and applying public pressure on SRP to abandon its plans. In 2001, CBD again joined with the Pueblo of Zuni in challenging the state’s renewal of SRP’s mining permit.
In 2001, CBD also joined with the Pueblo of Zuni and several other conservation and advocacy organizations to form the Zuni Salt Lake Coalition, a sustained campaign to stop the Fence Lake Coal mine which had garnered support from thousands of people across the world. The ZSLC had held 24-hr prayer runs around SRP headquarters, organized marches and rallies, pursued legal actions against the mine, and helped secure political pressure to stop SRP's mine. The ZSLC also includes Citizens Coal Council, Sierra Club, Water Information Network, Tona Tierra, Seventh Generation Fund and others.
“SRP’s decision to abandon its plans to develop the Fence Lake Mine is an astounding testament to the power of unity among diverse interests, and to the incredible will of the Zuni people,” stated Brian Segee, Southwest Public Lands Director. “Fence Lake exemplifies all that is wrong with the Bush administration’s so-called energy policy, which promotes the continued exploitation of fossil fuel sources regardless of the damage inflicted upon critical environmental areas or sacred sites such as Zuni Salt Lake.”
CBD and the ZSLC will remain vigilant to ensure that SRP abides by its promise to relinquish all coal leases at the proposed Fence Lake site, and does not attempt to sell or transfer its leases to other energy corporations. In addition, CBD and members of the ZSLC are exploring avenues to provide permanent protection to the Zuni Salt Lake and its surrounding area from coal mining and other destructive proposals, including having the area declared “unsuitable” under the federal coal mining laws.