Desert Rock: Tribal members push alternatives, Navajo
Nation wants EPA action
By Cornelia de Bruin, Farmington Daily
Times, FEBRUARY 11, 2008
FARMINGTON — Navajo tribal members who
believe their voices are needed in the fight against
the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant their government
supports claim a host of alternatives to burning coal
exist on the Navajo Nation.
The group, called Diné CARE, holds a viewpoint
that is squarely opposite of Desert Rock supporters,
such as project spokesman Frank Maisano, of the Washington,
D.C., law firm Bracewell & Giuliani LLC.
"It's a Navajo project and the
Navajo are choosing to take part of their vast resources,
which include coal, and advance the cause of their people,"
Maisano said. "The plant will generate $50 million
in revenue per year, bring thousands of construction
jobs, 400 permanent jobs and a wealth of indirect benefits."
The massive project, however, is held
up in the federal permitting process. Project developers
hope to begin construction sometime this year near Burnham
in San Juan County.
Diné CARE's recent release of
a report stating its views about the Desert Rock Power
Plant project preceded by less than two weeks letters
from Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr. and the Bracewell
& Giuliani firm notifying the Environmental Protection
Agency of the tribe's intent to sue to force EPA's release
of its Prevention of Significant Deterioration (air)
Desert Rock organizers submitted its
air permit application to the EPA in May 2004. A draft
permit was issued in August 2006, followed by a series
of public meetings and hearings. EPA officials are still
evaluating and responding to concerns from comments
received at those meetings.
In addition, Desert Rock is awaiting
a final Environmental Impact Statement from the federal
Despite seeming to be new information
submitted at the last minute, Dailan Long, spokesman
for Diné CARE, said the group's 168-page report
is an extension of comment it submitted to EPA in July
The report, titled "Diné
Citizens Against Ruining the Environment," throws
down the gauntlet to the Nation's elected officials
by using the tribe's fundamental laws to make a case
against the $3.7 billion power plant.
"The fundamental laws are the guiding
post, the guiding principles which have existed since
the dawn of life for us," Long said.
Based on the heart of Navajo culture
The fundamental laws are based on "K'é,"
the Navajo word describing the principle of relations
among the Navajo people, and between individual tribal
members and their environment.
"The Navajo Nation used these laws
to ban uranium mining," Long said. "We assert
that coal extraction and uranium mining are synonymous:
they're equally destructive, so it's not fair to ban
one substance and totally pursue another."
With that assertion, Diné CARE
has set the table and invites its tribal government
to discuss the issues of alternative energy in light
of the tribe's fundamental laws.
"We consulted with the Center for
Diné Studies, the Diné Policy Institute,
the Navajo Medicine Man Association and even the peacemaking
program," Long said. "We talk about the significance
of water, the significance of air, how we conceptualize
the health and environment, and how solar, wind and
energy development comport with these fundamental laws.
It's very much from a Navajo perspective."
The fundamental laws state that the
Navajo, the Diné, are responsible for maintaining
"Hozhó," harmony, in their lives, the
report's introduction states.
"Everything comes in pairs and
bipolar opposites counterbalance each other as insinuated
within the Navajo concept of "Alch'i Silá,"
it states. "The definition implicates Mother/Father,
male/female, up/down, Earth and Sky; these opposites
are not mutually exclusive but they related to each
other and are interconnected to maintain equilibrium."
The state of balance resulting from
living in accordance to the laws leads to "k'é;
that everything relates to another and nothing is independent
in and of itself."
"We have not seen it," George
Hardeen, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley
Jr., said regarding the Diné CARE report. "They've
been invited to the table and they are the ones who
Hardeen referred to the Dooda Desert
Rock group that has also protested the power plant project.
"President Shirley went out to
talk to them when they first started their roadblock
(to the Burnham site) in 2006," Hardeen said.
Long, spokesman for Diné CARE,
said the group plans to get a copy to President Joe
Shirley, Jr. and other selected tribal council members
Group: A better way to generate power
Diné CARE claims renewable energy sources such
as wind and solar exist on the Nation to create more
high-quality, life-long jobs for the Navajo than Desert
Rock would give the tribe. It also raises the point
that having a third power plant built near where two
plants already are sited does not equal environmental
justice for the people who live nearest to the facilities.
Arizona Public Service operates the
Four Corners Power Plant in Upper Fruitland, while Public
Service Company of New Mexico operates San Juan Generating
Station in Waterflow. The Four Corners Plant is located
on the Navajo Nation. Both plants, which are two of
the larger coal-fired operations in the West, employ
hundreds in San Juan County.
Long is a resident of Burnham, where
the Desert Rock plant would be built.
"When the draft environmental impact
hearings took place in the summer of 2007, 99 percent
of the grassroots Navajo people opposed Desert Rock,"
Dooda Desert Rock founder Lucy Willie
joined Diné CARE when it unveiled its alternative
energy study in Santa Fe Jan. 18.
"She was still standing with us,
which speaks to how Navajo grassroots oppose the project,"
Long said. "It really counters what Navajo Nation
President Shirley says about the Navajo Nation supporting
the plant when it's really his administration and DPA
(Diné Power Authority)."
The tribe formed Diné Power to
promote development of power using Navajo coal. The
entity works closely with Sithe Global Power, LLC, to
develop the Desert Rock plant.
Diné CARE characterizes the project
as a money hog.
"The Navajo Nation is putting money
into the coal furnace without any type of returns,"
The tribe, he said, has invested about
$14 million on the project since the 1990s. Diné
CARE said it's a matter of throwing good money after
"I think the misuse of funds is
pretty apparent given the fact that the Navajo Nation
did send some individuals to Hawaii. There's outrage
on the reservation about that," Long said. "This
mistrust and mismanagement of funds is coming out, and
Desert Rock is carrying on that spirit."
At least 400 people claiming ties to
the Navajo Nation attended an education conference in
Hawaii last fall, hundreds more representatives than
any other tribe represented at the event except for
the Hawaiian delegation, in whose state it was held.
What those most affected say
Ecos Consulting of Durango, Colo., the firm that prepared
the report for Diné CARE, sent a person fluent
in Navajo to interview 39 people whose homes are nearest
the Desert Rock Power Plant site — those people who
are being told to move off of land their families have
occupied for generations.
Their characterization of the tribe's
government underscores the anger of which Long speaks.
"We need to save our cultural traditional
prayer sites, as well as our traditional burial grounds
from energy corporations in any possible way we can,"
stated Stakeholder No. 9, of Fruitland. "We can
try to get our government to listen, but sadly they
only care about what money they can get for themselves,
for example, the RINGS."
The stakeholder referred to a Tribal
Council expense of $50,000 that Navajo Nation Council
delegates approved on a 71-10 vote in July 2007 that
they tacked onto a $3 million measure that would provide
funding for summer youth employment. The money came
from an Undesignated, Unreserved Fund, a sort of emergency
fund that the council regularly taps, according to the
Associated Press. Delegates wanted to "help identify
and distinguish officials from the public," according
to Legislative Counsel Ray Etcitty.
"They never asked me for my permission,
they just came and told me to accept their payment and
not to build anything on the home site, or construct
any more homes on the land," said Stakeholder No.
1, identified as a farmer/rancher, of an experience
with Navajo Mine representatives. "I still remember
the day we came home from Window Rock, my father was
very happy he was going to get a nice house with different
rooms. He died waiting for a good house from Utah International,
and to this day we haven't got a nice house out there.
They have not brought the power or the water."
And from Stakeholder No. 14, a tribal
business administrator: "We have had oil and gas
fields, coal mines, power plants, uranium mines in the
past but we still live in poverty with nowhere to go.
We have our children going on drugs and alcohol instead
of living in harmony like we were taught by our parents.
We need good leaderships in Navajo government and local
government to save our children's future."
Tribe seeks to force EPA into action
At the same time the grassroots group extends its invitation
to the tribe's government, those elected officials put
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on notice that
they are tired of waiting for an operating permit to
be issued for Desert Rock.
Bracewell & Giuliani, the tribe's
legal firm, informed EPA of its plans in a letter sent
Jan. 17, claiming the federal agency should have acted
within one year of its deeming the Desert Rock application
to be complete.
"Every day, every month, every
year they don't have this (permit) is another day, month,
year the tribe doesn't get the economic benefits of
the plant," said Bracewell & Giuliani's Maisano,
a spokesman for Desert Rock. "Forty months when
it should have been 12 months is a little over the top."
"We have no other option open to
us," Hardeen said. "We understand that EPA
tends to go over that, that it's tough for EPA to go
through its process in a year."
"We found it to be complete May
21, 2004," Colleen McKaughn, assistant director
of EPA Region Nine's Air Division, said. "We were
supposed to act on it within 12 months; the Clean Air
Act states that, but I don't know why it says that.
I don't think it's possible to act that fast."
The federal entity has no estimate of
when it will make a decision regarding the permit application,
It's been a long time coming
In the case of Desert Rock, McKaughn and her colleagues
are working their way through responses to the 1,000
people and entities that filed comment regarding the
Desert Rock application.
Some of the comments are from outside
the Four Corners region, but 750 of them center on the
subject of environmental justice and were received from
people who described themselves as locals. Comment came
from the Hualapi Nation, Ute Mountain Ute and Southern
Ute tribes, McKaughn said. Global warming was also of
concern to them.
EPA's permit consideration process was
further hampered by a long discussion of how to conduct
the modeling process it planned to use to collect data,
McKaughn said, by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on greenhouse
gases and by a challenge to EPA's mercury emissions
"The issues were very difficult
to work through and people expressed very strong opinions,"
she said. "PSD permits are very complex, as is
the type of process that's used for areas that have
Sithe Global Power, LLC, seeks a Prevention
of Significant Deterioration permit for the facility.
"We looked at emissions from everywhere
and found no adverse impact on the ambient air quality
and Class 1 areas," McKaughn said. "Our data
shows that Desert Rock won't have the effects that people
say that it will. This permit can't be the end-all,
be-all for everything."
Shirley maintains, nonetheless, that
EPA's delay in permitting the plant holds the tribe
"All we ask is that EPA leaders
... act without delay to complete the permit review
and analysis, and issue the final permit as soon as
possible to avoid further burden to the Navajo Nation,"
he wrote in his letter to EPA Administrator Stephen
"I feel for the tribe. It's frustrating
to be at the end of the process and see the goal post
moving farther away," Maisano said.
Cornelia de Bruin: firstname.lastname@example.org