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.

Navajo Families Live With Electricity For First Time

Margie Tso and her husband, Alvin, at their family ranch.Credit George Hardeen
Margie Tso and her husband, Alvin, at their family ranch.
Credit George Hardeen


By Aaron Granillo, KNAU


Turning on the lights or opening the fridge are things many of us take for granted. But if you’ve never had electricity, they might seem like luxuries. Now, for dozens of families on the Navajo Nation, those luxuries are becoming a reality. As Arizona Public Radio’s Aaron Granillo reports, more than 60 families will soon have electricity for the first time in their lives.

Margie Tso has a beautiful view from her family ranch on the Navajo Nation, just southeast of Page.

“I have been living out here since 1952,” said Tso.

The view from the Tso’s ranch of LeChee Rock, a sacred mountain to the Navajo people.
Credit Aaron Granillo


From her front yard, you can see miles and miles of red and orange sandstone. And LeChee Rock, a sacred mountain to the Navajo people. But from the backyard, there’s a clear view of the Navajo Generating Station, which has been supplying electricity all over the southwest since 1976. But not to Tso’s house.

“At times we kind of grumbled about it, but what could we do? I was brought up in the same matter that I learned to deal with,” said Tso. “Building a fire out of wood, using the charcoal for everything. Making bread, cooking meat, making stew, and such and such.”

But all of that has changed because of a nearly $5 million joint project that’s bringing electricity to certain areas of the Navajo Nation, including Tso’s ranch.

“It’s sort of a miracle for people to live like that,” said Tso. “Flip on a light. Get your remote. Your pleasure’s right there before you.”

Smoke stacks at the Navajo Generating Station can be seen from the Tso’s ranch.
Credit Aaron Granillo


Although the Navajo Generating Station has been producing electricity for decades, it’s not legally allowed to provide power to the Navajo Nation. That ownership and sovereignty belongs to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. But according to officials, they’ve never had enough money to build power poles in remote parts of the reservation. That is until now.

“The Navajo Generating Station and SRP donated about $2 million. NTUA donated some,” said Paul Begay, a business information technician with NGS.

Additional funding came from the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. By 2015, the project will bring electricity to 63 families.

“The first thing people mention is refrigerator. ‘Oh good, I’m not going to buy any more ice,'” Begay said.

Using ice to keep food fresh is what Pearl Begay did for decades. She lives just up the road from Tso’s ranch. Pearl only speaks native Navajo, so her daughter, Daisy, translates.

“She said she like her electric. The lights mostly, and her refrigerator.” said Daisy.

According to Daisy and Pearl, they should have had power a long time ago. They claim they were promised electricity nearly 40 years ago, while the Navajo Generating Station was being built.

“They built the plant right there, and they forget them,” said Daisy.

Their neighbor, Margie Tso, feels the same way.

“They started giving us hope, giving us hope,” said Tso. “And then they say, ‘It’s going to cost too much.’ And so then I just lost hope. I thought, ‘Well, whatever. I guess I won’t have electricity at the ranch.’”

But now that she does, life has become much easier.

“(It will) be quicker to do things than trying to hook up this and that, or run out of gas and run to town to get more gas,” said Tso. “A miracle happened that it came through.”

Coming Clean: Historic Agreement Reached for Navajo Generating Station

AP Photo
AP Photo

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The electricity delivery from the Navajo Generating Station will continue well into the future – while achieving significant air pollution reductions.

That was the announcement made this morning by the Department of the Interior, which said it is part of an agreement that was reached to continue the services of NGS.

That agreement was signed by the Department of the Interior, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community, Salt River Project, Environmental Defense Fund, and Western Resources Advocates.

With the agreement came a proposed “Reasonable Progress Alternative to BART,” that was submitted to the United States Environmental Protection Agency today for consideration in developing the final Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) rule for NGS.

“This consensus agreement among a very diverse group of interested parties is nothing short of historic,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle in a DOI press release. “Through collaboration and cooperation, this innovative proposal will not only significantly reduce harmful emissions, it will also mitigate the plant’s carbon footprint and ensure continued generation of electricity that helps power the local economy.”

NGS, while being the largest coal-fired power plant in the West, is also the single sources of nitrogen oxide air pollution in the country, contributing to ozone and fine particle pollution in the region – home to the Grand Canyon and 10 other national parks and wilderness areas according to the release. Another significance for the NGS is that it provides more than “90 percent of the power for the Central Arizona Project (CAP), the state’s primary water delivery system, and plays a critical role in numerous tribal economies.”

The EPA in February issued a proposed BART rule for NGS to meet Clean Air Act legal mandates, recognizing the important role NGS plays on the regional economy, the EPA invited alternative proposals. According to the release, a Technical Working Group that consists of NGS owners, the DOI, affected tribes and other interested parties came together and submitted a supplemental proposal. “The group worked to address the concerns of many diverse interests in the plant and to provide the best path forward for all parties, in a manner that reflects current and future economic and environmental considerations,” the DOI release states.

Emissions of nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide will be significantly reduced under the agreement, while maintaining essential operations at NGS into the future.

Key items within the agreement are:

–An 11.3 million metric tons, or 3 percent annually, carbon dioxide emissions reduction no later than December 31

— 80 percent clean energy by 2035 for the U.S. share in NGS

— $5 million Local Benefit Fund for community improvement projects within 100 miles of NGS or the Kayenta Mine, which supplies coal to NGS.

— Development of a 33-megawatt solar energy facility for the Gila River Indian Community

— DOI will provide copy00 million over 10 years, beginning in 2020, to provide financial assistance to tribes in Arizona that rely on water from the Central Arizona Project.

The release states “[t]he agreement reached today will further the objectives set forth in the Joint Statement to find ways to produce ‘clean, affordable and reliable power, affordable and sustainable water supplies, and sustainable economic development, while minimizing negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations.’”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/26/historic-agreement-reached-navajo-generating-station-150606

Navajo Generating Station gains support from government agencies

Interior, Energy, EPA Commit to Cooperative Working Group to Achieve Shared Goals on Navajo Generating Station in Arizona

Release Date: 01/04/2013, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, press@epa.gov

WASHINGTON – Today the Department of the Interior, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency released a joint statement that lays out the agencies’ shared goals for Navajo Generating Station (NGS) and energy production in the region served by NGS.

In the statement, the three agencies agree they will work together to support Arizona and tribal stakeholders in finding ways to produce “clean, affordable and reliable power, affordable and sustainable water supplies, and sustainable economic development, while minimizing negative impacts on those who currently obtain significant benefits from NGS, including tribal nations.”

In addition to identifying shared goals, the statement announces specific activities the agencies intend to take jointly to help achieve those goals. These actions include: 1) creating a long-term DOI-EPA-DOE NGS working group; 2) working with stakeholders to develop an NGS roadmap; 3) committing to complete the second phase of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s report on clean, affordable, and sustainable energy options for NGS; and 4) supporting near-term investments that align with long-term clean energy goals.

A copy of the Joint Statement is available at http://epa.gov/air/tribal/pdfs/130103_statement_ngs.pdf.

NGS is a coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian reservation approximately 15 miles from the Grand Canyon and owned partially by the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). Power from the facility is distributed to customers in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Reclamation’s share of the power is used to move water to tribal, agricultural, and municipal water users in central Arizona.

The Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency oversee other federal responsibilities or interests that relate to NGS. These include tribal trust responsibilities, protection of national parks and wilderness areas, visibility and public health protection, and clean energy development.