By admin January 18, 2013 17:28

AZLatinos NavajoSpecial Report by Ruben Hernandez

KAYENTA, Ariz. – Federal air quality regulators have issued a proposal requiring the Navajo Generating Station outside Page to install filtering equipment by 2023 that could cost up to $1 billion.

Navajo reservation environmental activists and other conservation groups see the proposal as an opportunity to transform the area’s current electricity generation from polluting goal-burning to cleaner and “greener” solar and wind electricity systems.

Navajo activists and their allies say this is a time when reservation residents must decide their future for energy, the local economy, and their cultural traditions. And they are enlisting Latino organizations in Phoenix and Tucson to help them make the change.

  Now the Navajo activists are uniting with Latino advocacy organizations such as Tonatierra, Puente and others in Phoenix, and similar advocacy groups in Tucson.

“We have a mural project and marches planned in Phoenix to draw attention to our situation,” says Jihan Gearon, the Navajo executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, one of the leading activist nonprofits.

She added their long-term strategy involves engaging the Latino community to use their growing political power to help achieve some major changes for the Navajo people.

While immigration was the top motivation for Latinos to vote in record numbers in the 2012 election, Navajo activists believe their most pressing issues of clean energy and economic parity will become the next hot concerns for Latino voters in Arizona and nationwide.

Tupac Enrique Acosta is a Chicano leader with Tonatierra Community Development Institute in Phoenix. He is also a vice chair with the Seventh Generation Fund, a Native American economic-development organization with a mission of investing in businesses that protect the environment.

He recalled Navajos and others from the 16 tribes in Arizona marching with Latinos to protest against English-only laws and SB 1070 anti-undocumented immigrant laws the state legislature has passed.

Acosta pointed out that U.S. Latinos and indigenous people have always formed alliances for cultural, economic, environmental, and political issues in Latin America. He and Tonatierra representatives have attended conference forums in the U.S., Mexico, and Latin America where the philosophical foundations for cooperation between cultures have been forged.   

The next logical step, Acosta added, would be to create political solidarity among Arizona tribes and Arizona Latino advocacy organizations in Arizona.

“Electoral strategies have to be addressed in the same way as environmental and economic issues have been addressed by our coalitions – from the local to the regional.”

The Environmental Protection Agency says the Navajo Generation Station is the largest contributor of hazy air in the Grand Canyon and five other national parks in Utah and Colorado.

The filtering equipment would reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and clear the air substantially, according to the EPA.

Many Navajo Reservation residents and environmental activists are concerned about air pollution from the generation station. The plant burns coal taken from the Peabody mine on Navajo land. Some Navajos claim they are getting sick from breathing the hazy air that drifts across their land from the smokestacks of the Navajo Generating Station.

Activists also want to transition the large profits earned by the Peabody Western Coal Co., one of the world’s biggest coal mining corporations, and Valley power companies such as Salt River Project (SRP) and Arizona Public Service (APS) into the hands of tribal entrepreneurs that will work with investors to build solar and wind energy-generating facilities on their vast lands.

 In addition, the activists are introducing a new concept they call the “Just Transition Plan” to the Navajo tribal council and to residents in small town meetings in Navajo communities.

The Just Transition Plan focuses on the interests of Black Mesa community members instead of big corporations. The blueprint calls for the development of solar and wind energy facilities to replace coal-fueled power plants.

“Our goal is to not just shut down the coal mines,” says Wahleah Johns, the Black Mesa solar project coordinator for the BMWC as we drive in a van toward the Black Mesa coal mine on winding, washboard-rutted dirt roads. “We understand that there has to be a transition to something more sustainable.”

“We want to create a model where a solar developer partners with the people for solar panels, and the people earn money by selling the extra electricity they don’t use to the utilities,” she says.

This electricity from solar and wind generators can be sold to SRP and APS and sent to cities using existing transmission lines, she added.

Members of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said they have had initial discussions with some solar and wind development companies, and with SRP.

 When millions of residents in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and Los Angeles flip on a light or open a water faucet, the user is probably unaware the electricity and water come from natural resources on the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona.

 The majority of urban dwellers don’t know and likely don’t care that the Navajo natural resources from the Black Mesa coal mine near Kayenta are used to generate electricity for their city lights.

In addition, this electricity is sent to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which uses it to power the Central Arizona Project that delivers water to Arizona household taps as well as to irrigate farm fields that grow vegetables and fruits.

Paul Ostapuk, SRP environmental manager of the NGS in Page, said, “We are under certain threats that could shut down this plan prematurely,” referring to EPA pressure to install more pollution controls.

The NGS environmental manager said that SRP has invested in renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

However, Ostapuk says, “Keep in mind that solar and wind is more expensive and less cost efficient right now.”

In addition, he said the costs of investing in renewable energy would have to be passed on to SRP’s customers, something he didn’t think they would be too happy about.

There is probably no easy solution to the face-off between big corporations and environmentalists in Navajo land.

However, in Arizona, the great potential on tribal land to generate clean energy means that the tribe can take a big role in providing global warming solutions. It also has the opportunity to mark its own path to future energy independence.

ArizonaLatinos writer Ruben Hernandez visited the Navajo and Hopi lands in Arizona with the support of an environmental journalism fellowship from the New America Media and funded by the Mize Family Foundation.


By admin January 18, 2013 17:28
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