Policy Debate Over Power Plants on Navajo Land
SANOSTEE, N.M. Navajos voting in opposition to a new power plant on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners area, where some of the nation's dirtiest power plants already exist, say they are already suffering from enough respiratory disease and cancer from smog-laden air and polluted water.
"We don't want any more dirty power plants," said Sarah Jane White, a Navajo Sanostee Chapter resident who helped pass a resolution opposing the new power plant.
The Navajo Nation and Sithe Global LLC, based in Houston, plan to build a 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant, Desert Rock, on 600 acres of tribal land in San Juan County. The plan includes mining an additional 6 million tons of coal annually at the existing BHP mine on tribal land.
"The rich companies, looking for oil and coal, always go out to communities that are cash-poor and land-rich," White said. "We are the targets. Indigenous are the most cash-poor and land-rich. We OK these things because our kids need jobs.
"But people are beginning to get smarter. We are being used and used. People are beginning to fight back. We have to do what we have to do."
White, who lives 15 miles from the proposed site of the new power plant, said the once-pure mountain air of Sanostee is already clouded with smog from existing power plants.
White lives with the noise of a massive electric transmission line overhead, yet she has no electricity. She uses a generator, which she must pay for herself, while the transmission line carries Navajo coal-fired electricity from area power plants to cities in Arizona and California.
While canvassing Navajo homes to organize opposition to the power plant, White found Navajos suffering from heart disease, respiratory ailments and kidney problems in almost every home around the Four Corners' power plants.
White was among many who praised Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. for supporting the recent Navajo Nation Council resolution banning uranium mining.
White pointed out that Shirley also opposed the desecration of sacred San Francisco Peaks and the planned wastewater snow production on the mountain in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Now, White and other Navajos question why Shirley continues to support power plants which release chemical toxins and Peabody Coal's mining operations on Navajo land.
Shirley has not yet responded to Indian Country Today's request for comment about the accusation of dichotomy in his policies.
White said, "I think we need to impeach him." She earlier campaigned for Shirley and said he is a kind and humanitarian person. But, she alleged, he lacks the personal leadership to halt the continual poisoning of Navajos by power plants and coal strip mines.
White said the new Desert Rock Energy Project claims there will be only 10 percent emissions, but Navajos have seen a steady stream of corporate promises and public relation strategies.
"All of these power plant companies have been lying to Navajos all these years." She pointed out that the new power plant on Navajo land would once again deliver electricity to Nevada and California, but not to Navajos.
"Now, talk about injustice. We will be stuck with the mess, the smoke."
White's son, Navajo rap artist Che Glawnii, recently returned home to Sanostee, south of Shiprock. "I'm tired of being poisoned by our Navajo tribal government," Glawnii said. He has seen too many relatives debilitated by asthma and die from cancer. More Navajo babies are being born today with birth defects, he said.
"We want jobs, but we don't want to have to die for it. We don't want to extinguish our genetic bloodline by doing this." He also pointed out that the majority of managerial-level jobs in existing power plants and coal mines are held by non-Indians, while Navajos are given jobs with the highest health risks.
"I have watched too many of my relatives die. Geronimo didn't die so I could be a coward and go get a job at a power plant. We have to protect each other from people trying to kill us."
He said there are industry alternatives to toxin-releasing power plants and coal mines. Those include manufacturing companies with minimal pollution, and wind and solar energy systems.
An EPA report shows that two power plants and their coal mines in San Juan County released 13 million pounds of chemical toxins into the Four Corners' air in 2000 alone. Those toxins are breathed by Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, Southern Ute and other residents in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah.
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News