EPA “clean power” plan will harm Navajo Nation in Arizona
By Jackie Moreau | Watchdog Arena
On Friday, June 12, a Democratic legislator representing the Southwest region’s Navajo Nation criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan for threatening the Navajo Nation’s economy and sovereignty.
Arizona state Sen. Carlyle Begay, a Navajo tribe member, was invited to speak at the Heartland Institute’s 10th annual International Conference on Climate Change. Begay warned conference goers of the consequences coal restrictions will have on the Navajo people. The nation holds a population of over 300,000 tribal members– the largest population of the 500 recognized tribes and 318 reservations in the country.
“These revenues represent the Navajo Nation’s ability to act as a sovereign nation. It’s important revenue that meets the definition of self-determination,” Begay stated. “I often argue that as a tribal community and tribal nation, we are truly not sovereign without our ability to be self-determined, and natural resources like coal provide some of that future.”
EPA regulations are stifling coal’s ability to keep the Navajo Nation a self-determined people. According to Begay, the nation is mining 8-10 million tons of coal each year, down from 13-16 million tons, before EPA regulations began to take its toll. Begay says they have billions of tons of coal to feed the economy.
“From this natural resource, we actually generate approximately 3,750 megawatts of electricity sold primarily off the Navajo Nation to feed our economies in Arizona and the Southwest.”
The Navajo Nation is located in the Four Corners region, with the majority residing in the state of Arizona. Navajo lands stretch 27,425 square miles — about the size of West Virginia. Begay claimed that the coal industry continues to provide over 2,000 high-paying jobs on the Navajo Nation, but of the 300,000 tribal members that live within its boundaries, less than half are able to make a living, with an unemployment rate reaching over 50 percent. The economic development as a whole remains stagnant.
Recently, the Navajo Nation purchased the Navajo mine from BHP, a global resources company, to make the nation, what Begay calls, not just a stakeholder, but “a shareholder.”
“If it wasn’t for the Navajo Nation’s purchase of the BHP plant, the Four Corners power plant would have shut down, BHP would have shut down, and part of the strategy for Navajo purchasing BHP was to have solvency and protect the jobs that the industry had produced,” said Begay.
“Navajo sees it as a daunting task for the people, and really the hope is that there’s the understanding and collaboration by EPA [and] by the U.S. government that ensures that the transition of energy policies are considerate of the communities it impacts and is done so in an economically responsible way.”
Under the Clean Air Act section 111(d), the EPA’s Clean Power Plan was proposed in June 2014 “to cut carbon pollution” by regulating emissions from existing coal-fired power plants from 2020-2030 in an effort to curb climate change.
The Navajo Nation would not be the only victim if the power plants aren’t fought for, and Begay acknowledges that. “It’s not just the Navajo Nation that is being impacted, it’s the entire region. And you’re talking about regions that are largely rural, largely frontier in a lot of ways.”
Access to a reliable and affordable water source will also be impacted under the EPA’s regulation. Arizona’s water source comes from the Colorado River and has to get down to Phoenix and Tucson. The only way that’s achieved right now is through coal-fired power generation, said Begay.
“There’s not the efficiency in solar or wind right now to meet that demand, and so part of the balance is if the customers in Arizona do not want a significant increase in their rates of electricity or water, we have to find that balance.”
The EPA maintains that its proposal will be affordable. In a June 12 letter to the editor, EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Janet McCabe wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Ensuring that the final CPP supports our electricity system’s ability to deliver reliable—and affordable—energy has been a top priority all along.”
The Energy Information Administration was recently tasked with using its National Energy Modeling System to analyze the impacts of EPA’s proposal. According theInstitute for 21st Century Energy, “The ‘Base Policy’ scenario EIA designed hews closely to the Clean Power Plan, including interim goals and compliance around EPA’s four building blocks.”