Geschrieben am 15. August 2018 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag August 2018

Philip B. Williams: In the Great Southwest


black mesa

Black Mesa, Looking West from Canyon De Chelly, Arizona

My Road from Black Mesa

Philip B. Williams, an Englishman abroad, is sharing his memories with us. It’s a look at the world at the End of the British Empire, full of class consciousness.  The British crime novel – and not only the British . surely wouldn’t exist without it. Here are his musing No# 3. This one is about redemption.


The first sound of trouble was when I heard the thwack-thwack-thwack of a helicopter heading towards our compound from over Navajo Mountain. At first, I assumed it was another VIP visitor we hadn’t been told about; because located right here, on the top of Black Mesa, was Arizona’s most popular tourist attraction for corporate executives in the international mining business – not nearby Monument Valley, or the Grand Canyon. They wanted to check out a new technology that promised to make them loads of money: the world’s first long distance coal slurry pipeline, pumping ground-up coal to the Mohave Power Plant in Laughlin Nevada, 273 miles away.

As usual, that afternoon of April 17th, 1971, the wind and sun glare in the cloudless thin air, high up on the Mesa, was unrelenting. As I squinted up at the approaching helicopter it looked different, more like a Vietnam War Huey than the bubbled executive flying machines we usually saw. As it turned to hover over the grinding mill I could see emblazoned on the side “State Police’ and armed tough guys were leaning out the open door.  The plant manager came rushing over. “This is a lock-down! No one leaves the compound and stay away from the fence.”

Next, I saw a huge dust cloud from a convoy of vehicles heading towards us on the dirt road out of the Hopi territory to the south. They pulled up to the closed main gate and disgorged a crowd of angry people shouting something and carrying banners –too far away to read what they said. From inside the compound I couldn’t figure out what was happening, between the howling wind, the dust and the noise because now the helicopter hovering overhead had been reinforced by screeching Arizona highway patrol cars and Navajo police vans, and some of the plant workers were yelling back at the demonstrators.

I was annoyed, this was a Saturday, our illicit beer supply was running low, and after work that day I had been planning on making a run to the nearest decent liquor store, outside of the Indian Reservation, in Flagstaff 150 miles down the road. I had to see what was stopping me, so ignoring the manager’s instructions I slipped around the back of our accommodation trailer to where I had an oblique view through the chain-link fence at what was happening at the main gate.  I did a doubletake. Leading the hostile crowd was a group of American Indians[1]-Hopis, dressed in traditional regalia. They were performing a chant and some sort of ritual dance – evidently directed at us, at me, inside the compound. 

Then almost as quickly as it had begun the ritual and shouting was over. Everyone piled back into their vehicles and were gone.[2]

But they left something behind.

I had never been the target of a demonstration before.  It was unnerving.  I had been on the other side, on plenty of anti-Vietnam War marches, including one outside the American Embassy in London. I even had a prominent peace symbol on the hard hat I was wearing that day.

It was like having a mirror put in front of my face.

It made me ask myself: “What was I doing here on Black Mesa?”

This was my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment.

I realized I was no saint.

coal slurried

Doing the Devil’s Work – with coal slurry at Black Mesa


I was working for Bechtel Inc., then the USA’s largest civil engineering firm, helping Peabody Coal Company open-up what would become the US’s largest coal strip mine. Just beyond the fence surrounding our compound I could see and taste the dust kicked up by the massive earthmovers that were excavating the sandstone surface rock to get at the thick coal seams below, oblivious to any pinon pine or Navajo Hogan in their path.

strip mine

1970: Opening Black Mesa’s Coal Strip-Mine                    

Until that time, like many engineers, I don’t recall thinking much about the environmental implications of my work.  I had not realized that anyone cared very much about what we were doing to their land.  Only later did I understand what I was part of.

In the 1960’s real estate and agricultural development in the ‘sunbelt’ deserts of Arizona, Nevada and southern California was constrained by limitations on water and electricity supplies.  At that time everyone assumed that electricity and water consumption would escalate in proportion to the rapidly rising population compounded by rising prosperity.  A power company executive justified this mind-set: ‘Our responsibility is to make certain there is enough electricity to operate every air conditioner and other appliance our customers may want to use.  They dictate -it is up to us to respond’.[3]The idea of energy and water conservation or demand management was ‘anti-progress’ or even subversively anti-capitalist. The more electricity that was used -however wastefully, meant the more profits electricity utilities made.

At first, hydro-dams were proposed to be built in the Grand Canyon to power pumping Colorado river water to the deserts of Southern Arizona.[4]These dams in the National Park were stopped in 1968, a result of one of the first successful nationwide environmental campaigns.  As a substitute, four massive coal powered generating plants were constructed, including the 1580 MW Mohave Plant in Laughlin Nevada, fed by the Black Mesa strip mine and the slurry pipeline that I was working on.

The coal deposits were entirely located on what was then a jointly owned Navajo/Hopi Reservation. With the connivance of a double-dealing lawyer[5], Peabody Coal company acquired the mining rights underlying 100 square miles on the Mesa by paying the tribes less than 10% of their revenue.  At that time, no consideration was given to the environmental or social impacts of the mine.  To supply 5 million cubic meters of water per year for the slurry pipeline, deep wells were drilled into the aquifer below Black Mesa but the tribes were paid less than 1% of the market cost for the extraction of their groundwater. Ultimately the decline in the water table dried up springs and watering holes used by the Navajo and Hopi. The devastation of soil and ecology of what the Hopis considered a sacred landscape by massive earth moving excavators could not be reversed in such an arid landscape.  The US National Academy of Sciences concluded that strip-mines in locations like this should be considered ‘National Sacrifice Areas’. 

Burning coal to generate electricity inevitably causes air pollution. Sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates from the emissions of the Mohave powerplant supplied by the Black Mesa mine, affected air quality in what had previously been the crystal-clear atmosphere of the desert South-West, even creating murky visibility in the area’s prime tourist destination -the overlooks on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The author Peter Matthiessen visited the mined area on Black Mesa eight years after I had left and declared it to be ‘the ugliest ecological disaster of our time’[6].


How had I become part of this?

Just one year before I had impulsively escaped from stultifying class-bound England and headed for Canada to seek an unbound, undefined, but different future. When I finally arrived in Vancouver B.C. my fantasy started to meet reality. In my search for work there I found my newly minted Ph.D. in hydraulics engineering counted for nothing, and that no-one was hiring entry-level engineers. After a fruitless few weeks of cold calls and rejections, I thought I would have better luck in Montreal, where I had heard that hydraulics engineers were being hired for the massive hydro-dam projects being constructed around James Bay.  I had taken the Greyhound bus 3000 miles east and then tried all the engineering companies in Montreal, but with no greater success than in Vancouver.  I had no connections, no references, and did not speak French. It was midwinter and as I struggled against the icy wind on Sherbrooke Street to yet another futile interview I started to realize my desperate situation. I was sleeping on a couch at a friend’s house, I had no proper winter clothes and I was down to my last $100.

I had one last chance.

In 1967, during the ‘Summer of Love’, I had landed a summer vacation job as an engineering student intern at Bechtel’s headquarters in San Francisco. Then in February 1970, instead of flying direct to Vancouver when I escaped from England, I had found a very cheap charter flight from London to Salt Lake City.  This meant I could stop by and see all the friends I had made in San Francisco, on my way by bus up to Canada. A couple of those friends were engineers I had worked with that summer in 1967.  Over drinks, without prompting, they offered me a job.

I was smart enough then not to refuse outright and tell them what I really felt: that I was determined not to work for a big capitalist American corporation like Bechtel that I knew was intimately linked to the Republican administration, the CIA, and the Vietnam War. To avoid such moral compromises was the reason I was emigrating to Canada to seek work-not the USA.

I treated their offer as mere flattery -told them ‘I would think about it’.

My scruples had evaporated six weeks later when I phoned Bechtel from ice-bound Montreal and they ordered me ‘get on a plane to San Francisco tomorrow’.


Only now, 48 years later[7], do I understand their urgency. After making a fortune building dams, pipelines and oil refineries Bechtel had decided its future lay in energy production, which at that time meant designing and building massive new expensive nuclear and coal power plants.  The US had recently become aware that it was ‘the Saudi Arabia of coal’ with vast easily accessible coal deposits up to 60 feet thick, in the Western states from Montana to Arizona.  The problem was these coal seams were a long way from the load centers in Los Angeles or Chicago, the places where people lived and used electricity.  The key to exploiting this resource was reducing the cost of transportation. This is what Bechtel’s new coal slurry technology hoped to achieve by grinding up coal to sand particle size, mixing it with water then pumping it in the same way that oil is transported in a pipeline. At the downstream end the slurry was dewatered in massive centrifuges and fed to power plant boilers.  The decanted, highly polluted water was evaporated in ponds.  

With U.S. Government funding the company had established a small internal R&D group to further slurry technology, but only three or four of their engineers had any background in sediment hydraulics, and they were short staffed because the Black Mesa pipeline, their first full scale project, had just started up.

When I arrive at the headquarters in San Francisco I was treated like an exotic beast.  My long hair, my hippy and leftist attitudes were tolerated because I had a Ph.D.[8]in sediment hydraulics, the exact field they needed to expand their expertise, so I was hired as a senior engineer at the age of 24.  I think they all expected me to be ‘creative’. It helped to have an English accent.

A few weeks after my orientation I was told that my first assignment would be to work out at the company compound on Black Mesa. My primary responsibility there would be to analyze the hydraulics of an experimental slurry pipeline loop intended to demonstrate that 1000-mile-long pipelines with much larger capacity than Black Mesa’s were feasible. This would allow exploitation of even larger coal deposits, throughout the Western US.

pipeline tests

The Author Running Tests on the Experimental Pipeline

My first sight of the compound where I would be spending about a third of my time over the next 18 months was daunting. Located 15 miles up a dirt road, its fenced perimeter enclosed Pump Station #1, a grinding mill, two mixing tanks, an operation control room, an equipment yard and two accommodation trailers. Scanning the sparsely vegetated high desert plateau beyond, I saw no sign of life –except in the far distance an uninhabited Navajo Hogan.  In previous years, as a tourist, I had travelled across northern Arizona to see its spectacular topography of canyons and mountains. I had even hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon –and back, in one day, when I was 19 years old.  This bleak, dry, overgrazed, windswept and dusty panorama on the top of the Mesa was nothing like the tourist destinations I had seen previously.  Only a few months before I had left drizzly, cold, but verdant green England.  One weekend, when we had a break, I drove 200 miles in my rented Camaro up into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado just so that I could lie down in the grass of a forest meadow for a couple of hours.   


  My First Sight of the Black Mesa Pipeline Company Compound

Although I was now living on the Indian Reservation I had had no contact with native American culture.  The plant employed 20 Navajos who drove 35 miles in to work every day from nearby Kayenta, in large pickup trucks sporting American flag decals and patriotic slogans. They dressed in typical western gear: cowboy hats and blue jeans that was indistinguishable with the cowboy culture of the Texan oil engineers with whom I was sharing the trailer accommodation. Later I found that almost all the Navajo employees Peabody hired were Vietnam war veterans.  The only employee I got to know was the Navajo technician who worked with me on the pressure tests. He was my age but had been a second lieutenant serving in the army Special Forces until just a few months before.  He didn’t care that I was a member of Bechtel Employees for Peace and he thought my hard hat peace symbol was funny.

My sense of isolation meant I spent all my time within the company compound where I immersed myself in trying to solve interesting hydraulic engineering challenges. My university research had been a study of how sand moves along river beds, a phenomenon that required trying to understand the complexity of how turbulent flow interacted with irregular sand particle movement.  This was easy compared to how difficult it was to understand how coal slurry moved in a pipe. Depending on how the coal was pulverized and how much water was added, sometimes it behaved like toothpaste.        


Only much later, in 1989, did I find out who those protesters were that I saw while I was skulking by the chain-link fence. 

I was participating in a conference held at a dude ranch outside of Moab, Utah, organized by the Glen Canyon Institute, an environmental group whose goal was the restoration of the spectacular Glen Canyon on the Colorado river that had been drowned by the Glen Canyon Dam.  I shared a cabin with one of the Board members -Ed Dobson, and over a shot or two of whiskey that night I started to tell him my Black Mesa story.  Ed interrupted me. “I know all about it – I was involved in organizing that demo.”  While he was a student at Ohio University Ed had become an environmental activist campaigning against coal strip-mining in Appalachia.  He knew that Peabody Coal was shifting their operations to Arizona and the West, so in 1970, contacted a jazz musician in Santa Fe, Jack Loeffler, who was starting a somewhat anarchistic group called the Black Mesa Defense Fund- in the same month I was getting my orientation at Bechtel in San Francisco.

jack loeffler

Jack Loeffler, Black Mesa Defense Fund

Jack had lived and travelled extensively in the desert wilderness of the South-West and had got to know many of the activist leaders on the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations. Then in 1970 he had been approached for assistance by Mina Lansa and David Monongye, traditional[9] Hopi elders and spiritual leaders who were outraged at the sellout of the Hopi’s interests to Peabody Coal by the puppet tribal councils that had been appointed by the Federal Government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

mina lansa

Mina Lansa, Hopi Elder

In the late 60’s there had been an explosion of resistance to racism and resource exploitation on tribal lands by young Indians. In the revolutionary year of 1968 the American Indian Movement [AIM] was founded, which spearheaded an occupation of Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay.  Alcatraz had been a military prison where Indian leaders who resisted genocidal policies enforced by the US Army had been incarcerated.  In 1895 these included 19 Hopis who refused to allow the abduction of their children to government run Christian boarding schools intended to ‘assimilate’ the Hopis to American culture and religion.

hopi on alcatraz

Traditional Hopis imprisoned on Alcatraz for Resisting Assimilation 1895

The late 60’s and early 1970’s was also the time when the environmental movement asserted itself in political consciousness.  On April 22nd, 1970 the first Earth day celebration was held across the USA at about the same time as the Black Mesa pipeline started full scale operation. Jack was determined not to let the second Earth Day in 1971 pass unnoticed at Black Mesa.  Together with activists from AIM, traditional Hopis and Navajos, and some students from Ohio. he helped organize the demonstration I witnessed outside the gates of our compound. He intended to make Black Mesa strip-mining a symbol of all that was wrong with the development in the desert South-West. Those banners the demonstrators carried, but which I could not read at the time, proclaimed ‘For Mother Earth’.

david monongye

David Monongye, Hopi Elder

The slogan ‘Mother Earth’ was later embraced by the radical environmental movement of the 1970’s but for Hopis it has always had a more specific religious meaning. It meant reverence for the landscape they had been living in for the past 700 years, which was Black Mesa[10].  The Hopi elder who I saw leading the chants outside the main gate on April 17th, 1971 was David Monongye.  Although then well into his 70’s, Monongye had become a potent leader for traditional Indians across the country who were trying to re-assert their broken treaty rights.

These are Monongye’s words -a speech that I could not hear at the time over the din of helicopter and police sirens:

 “If you want to know a task that we believe [you] will accomplish, it is to rid the Black Mesa of the demon machines that the coal companies have put there. These are sacred lands for us and they are being destroyed for coal and the smoke in the sky that the coals bring. We are all people of peace, we are all working for the same Great Spirit. You cannot rely on the banks, or the corporations or the government. They will never respect you unless you hold territory”.

Later that afternoon, after the demonstration was over, and the police had left, we were told it was safe to leave, so I drove out replenish our beer supply in Flagstaff.  At the left turn off our dirt access road, onto the paved Arizona Highway 160, I noticed that someone had spray-painted a message for me on the Peabody sign, the words ‘Honky Go!’[11]

I got out and took a photo.

my road from black mesa

The Road from Black Mesa

I went.


This demonstration had a profound effect on me.  For the first time, I came face to face with people who really cared about their land. I started to see that the social issues I cared so much about also had an environmental dimension. Protecting the environment was as important to people’s well-being as decent working conditions or the rule of law.  I grew increasingly disenchanted with what I was doing. It was not good enough to do engineering well; I had to be responsible for its consequences.’  [12]

I decided that this kind of work was not for me. 

However, my conversion to environmentalism had to be more pragmatic than Saul’s on the road to Damascus. Leaving Bechtel took some time and planning. Before I quit my job, I had to get a US “green card”, legal residency in the US, which at that time took about 2 years. I also realized I had to save some money because I was going to be out of work for a while until I found something different to do.

I knew I was turning my back on a well-paid promising career, but it was getting harder and harder to reconcile what I was doing with my values. My boss next wanted me to work on another Bechtel project, also initiated by Kennecott Copper Company, then the owner of Peabody Coal, the Ok Tedi gold and copper mine in New Guinea.  This project was later listed as one of the world’s worst human induced environmental disasters. About 80 million tons of mine waste per year were dumped into the Fly River, destroying the river environment and impoverishing the lives of 50,000 indigenous people. 

To avoid this I had to get away from the headquarters office, so they would forget who I was.

 I eventually found a place where I could hide out while I waited for my green card.. I volunteered for a job no one else wanted to do, running centrifuge tests at the Mohave powerplant at the other end of the pipeline in Laughlin Nevada. Malfunctioning centrifuges were a weak link in slurry pipeline technology. They were supposed to expel the water from the coal before feeding the furnaces. Wet coal does not burn well.

The reason why no-one wanted to do this work was that Laughlin is the second hottest place in the US, after Death Valley, and working on the centrifuges meant working next to the power plant furnaces in 45C heat.

This was my time in purgatory.


By the time I quit Bechtel in August 1972, my disillusionment with the role of a civil engineer had deepened.  I could see no longer see any way that I could apply my training in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.  I was prepared to turn my back on my profession and seek another vocation.

Adding to my disillusion was that by the end of 1972 the lawsuits, petitions and demonstrations trying to stop the strip-mining of Black Mesa were unsuccessful, and the Black Mesa Defense Fund had disintegrated.

Even the demonstration did not achieve the attention the organizers had hoped for. It unfortunately coincided with and was overshadowed by demonstrations held that same week by Vietnam Veterans Against the War and by Lieutenant John Kerry’s shocking Senate testimony documenting US army atrocities in Vietnam.

But now. looking back over the last four decades I can see how this failed campaign, one of the first to confront resource exploitation in the South-West US, had a major effect on both the environmental and Indian Rights movement.

In June 1972 David Monongye attended the UN’s first Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm where he was one of the first voices linking protection of the environment with protection of the culture of indigenous peoples. In 1978 he and AIM leader Russell Means led a “Longest Walk’ of American Indians to Washington to protest land appropriations and continued violation of Indian treaty rights.  He is also credited by film-maker Godfrey Reggio as being the inspiration for his extraordinary movie Koyaanisqatsi, which means in the Hopi language. ‘Life out of Balance’.

In 1973 Russell Means and the AIM occupied Wounded Knee, the site of the last massacre of Indians by the US Army in 1890.  For their publicity posters AIM used an iconic image taken during the April 17th, 1971 demonstration at Black Mesa. One of their members, a young Navajo, called Leroy Keams was photographed brandishing an [unloaded] rifle in front of a Peabody Coal Company dragline.[13]

indian power

 AIM Member Leroy Keams at Black Mesa, 4/17/71 (photo by Marc Gaede)

The year before the founding of the Black Mesa Defense Fund, Jack Loeffler had read author Edward Abbey’s ‘Desert Solitaire’ and had met Abbey where he was working as a fire lookout in Grand Canyon National Park. They quickly became close friends.  Abbey, a self-described environmental anarchist, like Loeffler, was outraged at the construction of the Glen Canyon dam and what was happening on Black Mesa. On his own initiative he started plotting ways of sabotaging the slurry line.  He even developed a plan to demagnetize the control room computers at the Mohave power plant -at the time I was working there.[14]   Although he never executed these plans, Abbey incorporated a fictional story of sabotaging the railway carrying Black Mesa coal in his most popular novel, ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’ published in 1975. The heroes of this book were completely unlike the anodyne romantics of earlier nature writing and were cast in the mold of the 70’s ‘Easy Rider’ zeitgeist.

monkey wrench gang

Sabotaging the Black Mesa Coal Rail Line

Edward Abbey’s epochal book became the inspiration for a new generation of radical environmental activists opposing logging, dam building and mining across the country; who were prepared to engage in civil disobedience, performance art -and non-violent sabotage, known as ecotage.  A new organization emerged, encouraging these activities. Earth First! was founded by David Foreman and Mike Roselle[15]in 1980 with the support of Abbey.  Foreman had been a young volunteer working for the Black Mesa Defense Fund in Santa Fe in 1972 and saw Jack Loeffler’s decentralized leadership and anarchistic organization as models for quickly empowering young activists who were frustrated with the slow pace of environmental reform.

Earth First! became a major influence in the 80’s – operating on the edge of legality.  It shifted the mainstream environmental movement to more radical positions as well as propagating new tactics to dramatize environmental issues and embarrass environmental polluters.


After I left Bechtel in 1972 I drifted for a while. I volunteered in the news department of a local left-wing radio station KPFA; I took some classes at UC Berkeley.  Then a few months later another event occurred that would change my life:  I received a piece of junk mail.

In 1972 one’s mailbox was not inundated with unwanted solicitations and special offers as it is now.  I was curious, so I opened the letter. It was from an organization I had never heard of, announcing that it had just opened an office in Berkeley next to the University of California campus. It said that the Environmental Defense Fund [EDF] was a coalition of lawyers and scientists working to protect the environment.

This made me wonder, could my engineering training be useful after all? 

A couple of months later I happened to be in Berkeley near their office on Durant Avenue.  On impulse, I walked in the door and introduced myself to the two staff people there, Tom Graff the lawyer, and Jerry Meral the scientist.  They immediately set me to work.  For the next three years I spent much of my time at this office, working at first on the effort to stop the construction of the Auburn Dam on the American River.  Then in 1974, 36-year-old Jerry Brown was elected governor of California riding a wave of popular support for his promises of environmental protection.  This election had immediate consequences for me. 

A new state agency had been established in response to the growing controversy over proposals for new nuclear power plants. The California Energy Commission, [CEC] was tasked to oversee decisions on all new electricity generating plants in California.  Up until then, the rationale for new construction of nuclear and coal fired plants that proponents had used was a simplistic correlation of electricity demand with economic growth.  Exponential growth rate scenarios for electricity demand of up to 5% per year -indefinitely, were being proposed by the power companies.  If true, this would eventually have required constructing new nuclear power plants every three miles along the California coast.

As soon as he took office, Governor Brown hired Jerry Meral of EDF to be the deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources, an agency he had been battling only a few months before.  This was good news but created a problem.  EDF had been planning to challenge the rationale for licensing new power plants at the first CEC public hearings that were going to be held in June 1975, but Jerry’s replacement could not start for another six months. Tom Graff asked me to step into the role of acting [unpaid, volunteer] staff scientist to develop EDF’s case.[16]

At that time, I knew little about energy policy, but I knew who did.  That year, a group of young academics on the Berkeley campus had set up an interdisciplinary team called the Energy and Resources Group.  My first task was to walk over to their ramshackle offices in a repurposed WW2 army barracks a few blocks away, and ask John Holdren[17]: ‘were there any bright graduate students he would recommend I hire to help me?’  This is how I got to work with David Goldstein.

david goldstein

  David Goldstein, UC Berkeley Graduate Student 1974

David had started to research the question of what determined how much electricity we used as consumers.  Inevitably, his work demonstrated how simple conservation measures such as better insulation, more efficient refrigerator motors and use of incandescent lighting could greatly reduce electricity demand.   Together we developed a scenario that showed how California’s electricity demand could be flattened with simple energy conservation regulations, such there would be no need for new power plants -like the Mohave Plant.

David’s work, that later enlisted his Ph. D. supervisor Art Rosenfeld[18], now seems obvious and uncontroversial; but when I presented our findings on behalf of EDF at the very first public hearing held by the CEC on July 1st, 1975 we were bitterly attacked by the electricity company experts.  Nevertheless, later David[19]and Art Rosenfeld were hired by the CEC to translate this work into public policies that were then implemented throughout California.  After 1975 no new nuclear or coal powered power plants were built in the State.

california electricity consumption

How California’s Electricity Consumption Changed After 1975

This was my redemption for my work at Black Mesa.


Finally, in 2005 the Mohave Power Plant was shut-down.  It had originally been sited just across the border in Nevada to evade California’s more stringent air quality regulations: it was the biggest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the South-West.[20]Eventually national air quality standards became more stringent and the cost of retrofitting the power plant was too expensive. Now, in 2018, despite Donald Trump’s efforts to subsidize American fossil fuel oligarchs, renewable energy sources like wind and solar have become cheaper than the massive fossil fuel plants Bechtel designed 50 years ago. In the last decade the Mojave Desert has become the center for solar powered electricity generation projects that already exceed the generation capacity of the old Mohave Plant.

demolishing mohave plant

Demolishing the Mohave Power Plant, 2011

With the shutdown of the Mohave plant there was no further use for the Black Mesa slurry pipeline, and in any case the technology never took off. There was not enough water in the arid West to waste it mixing it with coal.

In 2018 I went back to Black Mesa.  The Mesa was as windswept and remote as I remembered, although now the road there was paved.  I drove up to the main gate where that demonstration had happened 47 years before. Although overgrown with tumbleweed all the buildings were intact as if someone, someday, hoped the pipeline would be operated again.  Eventually, a caretaker came out of what had been the maintenance building, suspicious of what I was doing there. I explained myself and we chatted for a while. He told me he had worked for the Pipeline company for all the last 46 years, first in operating the pipeline and now as caretaker.  I asked to take his picture, but being a Navajo, he refused.  He told me his name was Mike Keams. 

Only later, back on the road to Flagstaff, did I realize I should have asked him if Leroy Keams, the man on the AIM poster, was his brother.

author at B M 2018

The Author Revisits the Scene of the Crime: Black Mesa, May 2018

This is how David Monongye’s finished his speech at Black Mesa:

 “You must take back the Earth, peacefully, one piece at a time. Plant seeds, and water them, and make the Earth beautiful again.”

I did finally, find a useful role for my engineering training.  In 1976 I founded a pioneering consulting firm dedicated to planning and design in environmental restoration.

(c) Philip B. Williams 6/14/18

Phil Williams‘ articles with us:

My Class. Gulf impassable, breach indescribable. On the feelings of class inferiority and resentment. (CrimeMag Juni 2018)

An Englishman abroad. My End of Empire (CrimeMag Mai 2018)


[1]I am using ‘American Indian’ instead of ‘Native American’ in this essay, for discussion on appropriate usage see Wikipedia 

[2]As described by Sonia Dickey’s essay ‘Don’t let that deal go down’ in Jack Loeffler’s ‘Thinking Like a Watershed’ 2012

[3]As reported in Melissa Savage’s article ‘Black Mesa Mainline’ in the June 72 issue of Clear Creek Magazine

[4]As described in ‘Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa and the Fate of the West’ by Judith Nies, 2014

[5]John Boyden Esq. represented the Hopi tribal council while being paid by Peabody Coal Company.

[6]In Matthiessen’s ‘Indian Country’ 1984

[7]After reading ‘Friends in High Places’ by Laton McCartney, 1988

[8]I later found out that I was only the seventh to be hired in a staff of over 10,000 engineers.

[9]‘traditional’ describes tribal members who want to maintain traditional culture and religion  in opposition to the ‘progressive’ assimilative free market development policies implemented by tribal councils.

[10]  Black Mesa also had spiritual significance for the Navajo as well.  They considered it to be the ‘female ‘mountain twinned with the ‘male’ mountain Lukachukai 40 miles east across the valley near Canyon de Chelly

[11]‘Honky’ is an American derogatory term for white people.

[12]  As written in biographical essay in‘Environmental Activists’ edited by John Mongillo and Bibi Booth 2001

[13]  As described in Susan Zakin’s ‘Coyote and Town Dogs’, history of Earth First! 1993

[14]As described in “Adventures with Ed’ by Jack Loeffler, 2002

[15]In 1989 I would share a jail cell with Roselle after a Washington D.C. protest

[16]Tom offered me the job, but by this time I wanted to be my own boss -not work for anyone else: and also work on     protecting rivers.

[17]who later became President Obama’s chief science advisor.

[18]Later energy advisor in the Clinton Administration

[19]David Goldstein is the Energy Co-Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council

[20]See ‘Black Mesa, the Angel of Death’ by Suzanne Gordon

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