The Trump Administration Must Keep the Navajo Coal Plant Online

The Trump Administration Must Keep the Navajo Coal Plant Online
AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca

The Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation face the very real threat of losing their economic base if political agendas overcome rational thinking and the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is allowed to shutdown fully a quarter-century before Congress intended.  

The plant has been running hard and is vital for the stability of tribal economies and reliability of our electric power grid.  With western power prices peaking this summer at their highest levels in eight years, taking a baseload workhorse plant offline will only further tax the system.  Without NGS, studies show power costs will continue to climb.  Without NGS, the tribes and energy consumers lose big.   

For over a year, an unprecedented group of stakeholders including the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, labor, state and government officials and others have come together to keep NGS online beyond 2019 given the current owners plan to shutter the plant prematurely.  Each passing day puts the plant’s future and both tribes increasingly at risk.  

Tribal leaders have warned of a looming economic crisis, saying no chapter or village will avoid the pain of early closure.  In one sweep, 85 percent of the Hopi budget and 22 percent of the Navajo’s budget would be erased.  

Too little attention is being paid to the dire impacts to tribal people.  The Hopi face severe curtailment of their government functions, which would force them to lay off hundreds of their own people.  Given the Hopi are landlocked with limited infrastructure, there is no immediate way to replace this lost revenue.  Add to this the loss of another 850 mine and power plant jobs, thousands of support jobs and billions in economic benefits in the years ahead.  

The government can fulfill its trust duty to the tribes through swift and decisive action that puts an end to this disaster.  What it will take is holding stakeholders accountable, ensuring the law is upheld and recognizing NGS is important for protecting energy security, water delivery and tribal economies in the U.S. Southwest.

The administration has a unique leadership role given NGS is owned in part by the federal government and is the only coal plant in the United States commissioned by Congress directly.  

NGS was built on tribal lands using tribally-owned coal to power the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a federal infrastructure system that conveys water to the southern parts of the state.  Access to this water is essential for the lives and livelihoods of millions across Arizona.

Decades ago the tribes offered access to their land and resources based on assurances of sustaining revenues spanning 70 years.  Today they find themselves in a position where the non-governmental plant owners want to cut this agreement far short, and the CAP has walked away from its legal obligation to take NGS power.  

Energy resources empower the tribes and their people, and Navajo Speaker LoRenzo Bates has said it best:  “Our resources empower our sovereign ability to care for our people the way that only we can.” While the loss of revenues is difficult to contemplate, this is still not at the core of what the Navajo stands to lose as a Nation of people.

At the heart of the issue are traditional working families.  Many Navajo will have no other choice but to move away from ancestral lands their families have inhabited for hundreds of years.  The same is true for the Hopi, whose government will be severely impaired. Children will no longer have daily interactions with their parents and grandparents, losing out on important family connections and tribal traditions.  We cannot, in good conscience, allow this to happen.

The administration has consistently demonstrated a commitment to support energy diversity and make America’s communities healthy and strong.  We owe it to our earliest Americans to take all steps to keep the mine and power plant operating.  Together we can keep families together, economies strong and our energy secure.  Urgent action is needed for the benefit of so many.  

Craig Stevens, a former senior advisor to U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, is the spokesman for YES to NGS, a coalition supporting the continuing operation of the Navajo Generating Station.

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