Power Plants on Indian Reservations Get No Break on Emissions Rules

Four of the dirtiest plants, which sit on Native American soil, were expecting more lenient goals under the Clean Power Plan, but the EPA shifted gears.

By Naveena Sadasivam, Insideclimate News

The Navajo Generating Station is one of the country's dirtiest power plants. Credit: Wikipedia.
The Navajo Generating Station is one of the country’s dirtiest power plants. Credit: Wikipedia.

Four Western power plants that emit more carbon dioxide than the 20 fossil-fuel-fired plants in Massachusetts thought they would be getting a break under the Obama administration’s new carbon regulations––until the final rule ended up treating them just like all the other plants in the country.

The plants are located on Native American reservations, and under an earlier proposal, they were required to reduce emissions by less than 5 percent. But the final version of the rule, released earlier this month, has set a reduction target of about 20 percent.

A majority of the reductions are to come from two mammoth coal plants on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico—the Navajo Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant. They provide power to half a million homes and have been pinpointed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a major source of pollution––and a cause for reduced visibility in the Grand Canyon.

These two plants alone emit more than 28 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, triple the emissions from facilities in Washington state, fueling a vicious cycle of drought and worsening climate change. The two other power plants are on the Fort Mojave Reservation in Arizona and the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in Utah.

Environmental groups have charged  that the Navajo plants are responsible for premature deaths, hundreds of asthma attacks and hundreds of millions of dollars of annual health costs. The plants, which are owned by public utilities and the federal government, export a majority of the power out of the reservation to serve homes and businesses as far away as Las Vegas and help deliver Arizona’s share of the Colorado River water to Tucson and Phoenix. Meanwhile, a third of Navajo Nation residents remain without electricity in their homes.


Tribal leaders contend that power plants on Indian land deserve special consideration.

“The Navajo Nation is a uniquely disadvantaged people and their unique situation justified some accommodation,” Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, wrote in a letter to the EPA. He contends that the region’s underdeveloped economy, high unemployment rates and reliance on coal are the result of policies enacted by the federal government over several decades. If the coal plants decrease power production to meet emissions targets, Navajos will lose jobs and its  government will receive less revenue, he said.

Many local groups, however, disagree.

“I don’t think we need special treatment,” said Colleen Cooley of the grassroots nonprofit Diné CARE. “We should be held to the same standards as the rest of the country.” (Diné means “the people” in Navajo, and CARE is an abbreviation for Citizens Against Ruining our Environment.)

Cooley’s Diné CARE and other grassroots groups say the Navajo leaders are not serving the best interest of the community. The Navajo lands have been mined for coal and uranium for decades, Cooley said, resulting in contamination of water sources and air pollution. She said it’s time to shift to new, less damaging power sources such as wind and solar.

The Obama administration’s carbon regulations for power plants aim to reduce emissions nationwide 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. In its final version of the rule, the EPA set uniform standards for all fossil-fueled power plants in the country. A coal plant on tribal land is now expected to achieve the same emissions reductions as a coal plant in Kentucky or New York, a move that the EPA sees as more equitable. The result is that coal plants on tribal lands—and in coal heavy states such as Kentucky and West Virginia—are facing much more stringent targets than they expected.

The EPA has taken special efforts to ensure that the power plant rules don’t disproportionately affect minorities, including indigenous people. Because dirty power plants often exist in low-income communities, the EPA has laid out tools to assess how changes to the operation of the plants will affect emission levels in neighborhoods nearby. The EPA will also be assessing compliance plans to ensure the regulations do not increase air pollution in those communities.

The tribes do not have an ownership stake in any of the facilities, but they are allowed to coordinate a plan to reduce emissions while minimizing the impact on their economies. Tribes that want to submit a compliance plan must first apply for treatment as a state. If the EPA doesn’t approve, or the tribes decide not to submit a plan, the EPA will impose one.

Dude rancher in Grand Canyon dispute with tribe briefly arrested

September 05, 2013

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A dude rancher in a bitter dispute with a Native American tribe over access to a Grand Canyon tourist attraction was briefly arrested after confronting crews building a road near his property, a tribal spokesman said on Thursday.

Nigel Turner, the British owner of the Grand Canyon Resort dude ranch in Arizona, was taken into custody on suspicion of one count of trespassing by a Hualapai Tribe police officer on Tuesday. He was accused of entering the site despite earlier warnings, said tribal spokesman Dave Cieslak.

The tribe is paving the road on federal land adjacent to Turner’s property to provide easy access to its Skywalk project, a glass-bottom viewing platform that juts out over the crimson-hued canyon’s West Rim and attracts upwards of 1,000 tourists a day.

Turner is a Nevada businessman and ex-British Army helicopter pilot who a decade ago bought his property which today provides visitors with the experience of living on a Western ranch. He has been in a dispute with the tribe stemming from a four-year easement to his property he granted in 2007.

The fight escalated in May when Turner began charging tourists to enter the road that runs briefly through his property and later blocked access to the road altogether.

Tribal officials then built a new stretch of road that bypasses his property, and were working to complete a bigger project to finish a paved road to the Skywalk.

Cieslak said Turner was warned by security personnel not to enter the site, but did so anyway and began yelling at workers. He was arrested by a tribal officer on scene.

He complained of chest pains while en-route to a local county jail, and was treated and released at the Kingman Regional Medical Center, Cieslak said. He was cited but not taken to jail.

“He was treated with the utmost respect and all statewide police policies and procedures were followed,” Cieslak said.

Turner disputes the tribe’s account of the incident, saying he was concerned about crews using explosives so close to where his resort guests were staying. He said he asked politely to speak to the construction foreman and was quickly handcuffed.

He said he was then placed in a small space in the back of a car without air-conditioning, and that he asked to be flown to the hospital, but was taken by ground ambulance instead.

“My own cowboys would be arrested for treating animals the way they treated me,” Turner told Reuters. “What they did to me violated my civil rights.”

There was no immediate decision on whether charges would be filed by the Mohave County Attorney’s Office.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Andrew Hay)

Tribes Have Mixed Feelings About Tightrope Walker Coming to the Grand Canyon

Anne Minard, Indian Country Today Media Network

Famed tightrope walker Nik Wallenda last made headlines in June 2012 by tightrope walking across Niagara Falls. This year, he’s headed for a remote section of the Grand Canyon on the Navajo Nation—which also happens to house a site held deeply sacred by the Hopi and other tribes.

The Discovery Channel will air the stunt live on June 23, as Wallenda tightrope walks higher than he’s ever attempted before—1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River near its confluence with the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. His walk over Niagara Falls was only 200 feet off the ground. There’s another difference: he wore a safety harness over Niagara Falls, but will not do so over the Grand Canyon. That’s allowing publicists at the Discovery Channel to advertise the stunt as a “nail-biting” event, and “one of the most daring and captivating live events in history.”

Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation officials say they welcome the event as a chance to showcase their portion of the Grand Canyon. The tribe operates two viewpoints along Highway 64, which runs west from Cameron, Arizona to the Grand Canyon’s oft-visited South Rim in Grand Canyon National Park.

“Our visitation in this part of the Canyon is very low,” said Geri Hongeva, Navajo Parks and Recreation spokeswoman. “We would like families to come visit this area someday. There’s a lot of history; there’s a lot of culture there. We don’t have the budget to reach out to 13 million viewers. This is a great opportunity for us.”

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly is also excited for the spectacle, said his spokesman, Erny Zah.

“He’s happy that Nik wants to come here,” Zah said. “There’s going to be a worldwide audience that’s going to have the ability to see what we have to offer on the Navajo Nation. Any time we can take the spotlight for a little while and showcase our land, he’s definitely excited about that.”

Not everyone is as thrilled. Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, director of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office, said his biggest concern is a cultural one. The Hopi Tribe has identified the Little Colorado River Gorge as a significant clan migration route.

“The Gorge and the Canyon are not about taking lives,” he said. “They’re about life, especially the spiritual lives of our ancestral people.”

Kuwanwisiwma said when a base jumper died in the area last year due to a parachute failure, it presented a cultural burden to the Hopi people—and, he suspects, to the Navajos living nearby.

“We were told that this guy is not wanting to wear a safety harness,” Kuwanwisiwma said. “What if he does fall? It’s another cultural dilemma for the Hopi people.”

For Wallenda, 34, his boldness represents a meaningful personal conquest.

“The stakes don’t get much higher than this,” he said in a Discovery Channel press release. “The only thing that stands between me and the bottom of the canyon is a two-inch thick wire.”

Wallenda said the event will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to walk at such a great height as well as a chance to honor his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda, who died after falling from a tightrope in Puerto Rico in 1978.

Kuwanwisiwma said there have been other concerns about the approval process for the stunt on the Navajo side. Despite a 2006 agreement between the two tribes to honor each others’ cultural and religious sites, there wasn’t so much as notification—much less consultation—before the event was permitted.

“That didn’t make us too happy, that we had to learn about it ourselves,” he said.

Nevertheless, the permit has been granted and the date has been set. Hongeva said the Navajo Nation Park and Recreation Department will have to follow the lead of Discovery Channel security teams, and assist in keeping the public away from the actual location. Spectators will be allowed to congregate at Navajo Tribal Park near Cameron, but space will be limited. She’s advising fans to show up no later than noon to watch the 6 p.m. walk. Once Wallenda begins, he’s expected to finish in about 40 minutes.

Nik Wallenda looks out at the Grand Canyon, where he'll walk the tightrope without a safety harness in June. (Courtesy Discovery)
Nik Wallenda looks out at the Grand Canyon, where he’ll walk the tightrope without a safety harness in June. (Courtesy Discovery)
Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/04/07/tribes-have-mixed-feelings-about-tightrope-walker-coming-grand-canyon-148632

20-Year Ban on New Uranium-Mining Claims in Grand Canyon Holds Up in Court

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The Havasupai Tribe, and the Grand Canyon watershed, won in U.S. District Court this week when a judge denied the uranium industry’s motion to overturn a 20-year federal ban on uranium mining on 1 million acres in the ecologically sensitive landmark and haven of sacred places to many tribes. Still under contention, though, are previously existing claims that are held still valid.

The March 20 move upheld a ban signed by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in January 2012, when he prohibited new uranium-mining claims, as well as development on certain old claims whose rights may have expired, for 20 years on 1 million acres surrounding the canyon. In response the National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, Northwest Mining Association and other groups filed four lawsuits challenging both the ban and the federal government’s authority to enact it. The Havasupai Tribe was among those who stepped in to combat the industry.

“It’s a great day for the Grand Canyon, and for rivers, wildlife, and communities across the West,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, one the attorneys representing conservation groups and the Havasupai tribe in the case, in a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. “The uranium industry was hoping to cripple the Interior Department’s ability to temporarily protect lands from destructive mining. Today’s opinion upholds the Interior Department’s authority to take such protective measures.”

Salazar had enacted a two-year block on new mining claims for those million acres in 2009 to give the department time to study whether to institute a more permanent or longer ban. In March 2011 the state of Arizona’s environmental protection department granted permits to Denison Mines Corp. of Canada to reopen three mines near the canyon, even as the U.S. government was gathering information on whether to extend the ban. In January 2012 the Interior Department announced the 20-year ban, which was then challenged in court.

Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon threatens sacred sites of the Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab Paiute, Zuni, Hopi, and Navajo peoples. Tribal health is also at risk, with radioactive material posing a danger to Navajo citizens, said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly in a statement when the ban was announced in January 2012.

Not covered in the ban protected by the March 20, 2013, court ruling is the question of previously approved mining and new projects on claim sites with existing rights, the Interior Department said in its statement announcing the ban last year. The Bureau of Land Management estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be developed under existing rights. On March 7 the Havasupai tribe and three conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing Energy Fuels Resources Inc. to start up a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park, citing a lack of formal tribal consultation and the company’s failure to update the federal environmental review it had conducted in 1986.

“We regret that the Forest Service is not protecting our sacred site in the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property from destruction by uranium mining,” said Havasupai tribe chairman Don Watahomigie in a March 7 statement from the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Havasupai are returning to the federal courts to protect our people, our religion and our water.”

In addition the four uranium-industry lawsuits that were covered by the March 20 ruling could still raise arguments on other legal grounds, the Center for Biological Diversity said, adding that court proceedings will continue to unfold this spring.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/03/22/20-year-ban-new-uranium-mining-claims-grand-canyon-holds-court-148319