Commentary

Obama’s Clean Power Plan and EPA’s Emissions Rules Negatively Impact Indian Territory

Doug Domenech
By Doug Domenech | March 30, 2016 | 4:41 PM EDT

President Barack Obama speaks about his Clean Power Plan, Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, at the White House. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Much debate and controversy surrounds the historic treatment of Native American communities by the U.S. Government.  There exists many federal programs specifically aimed at helping tribal communities.  Certainly government policies and programs should not hurt them.  However, the Administration’s new carbon emission reduction regulation does just that.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a temporary reprieve to the states by granting a stay of Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed controversial carbon emissions rule, there is no doubt that as written, the president’s so-called Clean Power Plan impacts low and middle income communities the most, and especially singles out certain Indian nations.

The EPA has gone as far as to issue a supplemental proposal to address carbon emissions from the four electric generating stations located on Indian lands. These plants produce low cost electricity for sale into the grid, as well as, provide well-paying jobs for tribal communities.  In the case of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Arizona, the plant was established specifically to pump water from the Colorado River, under an existing water rights settlement, to areas on and off the reservation.  Additionally, the NGS utilizes coal mined on the reservation. 

Unfortunately, the Navajo Nation, like too many other tribal communities, is plagued by significant economic challenges.  The lack of jobs, high unemployment, and limited opportunities hurt the young and old alike.  The EPA’s actions will directly impact one of the tribe’s most significant employers, and will have an economic ripple affect across the reservation.

The 27,000 square mile Navajo Nation extends into the states of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and is larger than 10 of the 50 states in America.  Many Americans remember the heroic and patriotic acts of the Navajo Code Talkers during World War II in the Pacific.

Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay, a Navajo recently said, “The Navajo Nation’s unemployment rate is over 50 percent.  Currently, revenue from coal represents 60 percent of the Navajo Nation’s general funds and operating budget. Absent political restrictions on the use of coal, (coal) mining and the Navajo Generating Station on the Navajo Nation’s land would be expected to boost its economy by over $13 billion over the next 25 years!”

Employing nearly 500 people, the NGS plays a key role in improving the quality of life for residents of the Navajo Nation and surrounding cities.  The Kayenta Mine, which supplies coal to NGS, employs more than 400 employees. These facilities provide hundreds of Navajos with the opportunity to work. Like many corporate citizens, the NGS contributes to the quality of life in the region through targeted investments and grants to support educational scholarships, historic preservation, and environmental protection.

As part of the Salt River Project (SRP), the NGS not only provides electricity for consumers and businesses, but it provides the power needed to distribute water throughout the region.  SRP's water business is one of the largest raw-water suppliers in Arizona delivering approximately 800,000 acre-feet of water annually to a 375-square-mile service area. 

The impact of the Clean Power Plan on the Navajo Nation is not insignificant and will impact them for generations.  These proud and patriotic people deserve better.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has produced a compelling video -- in the Navajo’s own words -- that illustrate how the EPA’s plan impacts Navajo lives.

Doug Domenech is the Director of the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

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