Navajos Offer Alternatives To Huge Desert Rock Coal Plant
[Rachel's Introduction: A year ago (Rachel's #889) we described a vigil in the snowy desert where Navajo people were camped out to resist the huge (1500 MW) Desert Rock coal-fired power plant proposed near Burnham, New Mexico. Now those same Navajo resisters have just published a detailed alternative energy plan, showing how the Navajo Nation could keep its coal in the ground but still achieve economic development, by using its other abundant resources: the sun, the wind, and natural gas.]
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By Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press
[Rachel's introduction: A year ago (Rachel's #889) we described a vigil in the snowy desert where Navajo people were camped out to resist the huge (1500 MW) Desert Rock coal-fired power plant proposed near Burnham, New Mexico. Now those same Navajo resisters have just published a detailed alternative energy plan, showing how the Navajo Nation could keep its coal in the ground but still achieve economic development, by using its other abundant resources: the sun, the wind, and natural gas.]

Navajo group presents energy options to counter planned coal-fired power plant

By Susan Montoya Bryan, The Associated Press

Albuquerque (N.M.) -- A group of Navajos released a report Friday that spells out a host of renewable energy alternatives to a controversial coal-fired power plant proposed for the nation's largest Indian reservation.

The Navajo Nation's Dine Power Authority and Houston-based Sithe Global Power have partnered to build the $3 billion Desert Rock plant on tribal land in northwestern New Mexico. The plant would be capable of producing electricity for up to 1.5 million homes in cities across the Southwest.

But Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment said that in light of growing concern over greenhouse gases and global warming, the electricity should instead come from a mix of solar, wind and natural gas.

"The grass-roots Navajo people aren't just running around and saying we oppose Desert Rock," Dine CARE member Dailan Long told The Associated Press. "We're saying no to it, but saying yes to something else. And we have our work to prove it."

The report, released during a news conference at the state Capitol in Santa Fe, contains more than 160 pages and dozens of maps, pie charts and graphs showing how renewable energy projects would compare to Desert Rock.

But more importantly, Long said, the report provides a comprehensive look at how the tribe's Dine Fundamental Law -- based on centuries of customary, traditional, natural and common law -- can be applied to the modern problems of resource management and energy development.

Navajos are defined by their fundamental laws, which were handed down by deities who went through certain experiences and developed virtues and values that teach Navajos how to live as decent human beings.

As part of this, Navajos have a responsibility to maintain hozho -- or beauty and balance -- and they are obligated to protect their land, air and water.

"We envision a path of development for the Navajo Nation that is economically and culturally sustainable, one which counterbalances obsolete coal development and overwhelmingly invokes the Navajo Nation to invest in a healthy future," the report states.

Dine CARE and other environmental groups have argued that Desert Rock, which would be the third coal-fired plant in the Four Corners region, would harm the environment and residents' health.

But Navajo tribal leaders and Sithe have touted Desert Rock as one of the cleanest coal-burning plants in the country and a much-needed source of jobs and tax revenue for the Navajo Nation.

George Hardeen, a spokesman for Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr., said people forget the power plant's design is well within current federal emission standards.

"It doesn't make sense to attack the global warming problem one power plant at a time and it doesn't make sense to go after power plants starting with Desert Rock," he said.

Hardeen added that tribal leaders for the past few decades have been struggling to bring jobs and economic development to the sprawling reservation, where roughly two-fifths of people live below the federal poverty line.

"A project like Desert Rock is not just economic development, it's mega economic development. Nothing compares to it," he said. Hardeen also said the Navajos are sitting on about 100 years worth of coal reserves, which he described as a "very valuable resource to produce energy."

Dine CARE, in its report, contends there's more risk investing in coal technologies given the current and proposed regulatory pressures aimed at curbing global warming.

The group said Navajos have other resources within their borders that are more sustainable and more economically viable.

For example, the report states that Northern Arizona University found potential wind capacity on tribal lands in northeastern Arizona to be over 11,000 megawatts. There's also the possibility of more than 48,000 megawatts of solar generation on Navajo land, according to the report.

Hardeen said the tribe's power authority already is studying the possibility of some wind and solar projects.

Long acknowledged the difficulty of getting leases and financing for projects on the reservation, but he hoped the report would be a starting point for Navajos and their leaders to begin talking about alternatives for developing energy, protecting the environment and bringing in revenue for the tribe.

"I think the problem is just pressuring our council delegates to engage in this dialogue," Long said. "Let's sit down and talk about this. Let's work this out."

Lori Goodman Dine' CARE 10 A Town Plaza PMB 138 Durango, CO 81301 PH: (970) 259-0199 FAX: (970) 259-2300 Cell: (970) 759-1908 kiyaani@frontier.net http://www.desert-rock-blog.com

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