Sunday, December 23, 2007

Desert Rock: Dirty power plant deal keeps getting dirtier

Elouise Brown, President
Dooda Desert Rock
P.O. Box 7838
Newcomb, Navajo Nation
(New Mexico) 87455

December 24, 2007

By Elouise Brown

LITTLEWATER, N. M. -- Stephen C. Begay, the general manager of the Dine Power Authority, keeps banging the drum about the benefits of the Desert Rock mine-mouth power plant to Navajos. He says that “The Desert Rock energy project will bring economic, social and environmental benefits for the Navajo people.” I think that it is time to call him and his corporate partners to task for making statements they have not proved.
Our organization represents, and is made of up of, people who live on the land. When we say “the Navajo people,” we mean those who live with us. The document that is important for this discussion is the May 2007 draft environmental impact statement. It was prepared by URS, a San Francisco engineering and construction firm that brags that it is one of the largest such global firms there is. One of the things it had to do when assessing impact was comply with a 1994 executive order that required it to weigh the impacts of the power plant on our people as an ethnic minority and a low-income population. That was and is the “environmental justice” legal requirement. The URS discussion of that was totally inadequate because it did not discuss why the destruction of our traditional economy is of any benefit to us.
The financial setup is that a subsidiary of Sithe Global will pay the central government of the Navajo Nation to use the land; it will buy Navajo Nation coal; and pay royalties on the coal. We have not been told the exact deal. The money will go to Window Rock to feed the central bureaucracy.
There is no discussion of revenue sharing for the impacted chapters in the EIS. There is no projection of tax revenues that might possibly go to the chapters. While there is discussion of economic development projects in the Northern Agency that require funding, there is no plan to fund them. The EIS talks about construction jobs, but it does not offer any projection of numbers and kinds of jobs or anticipated payroll. It says that the new energy and wage economy will be a good deal for us, but it does not say how. It does not adequately address the destruction of our traditional economy or the impact of energy boom and bust on our rural communities.
I followed Mr. Begay and two Navajo Nation Council committees to Las Vegas and found the casino where they met. The presentation mentioned the construction contract given to the Fluor Corporation last September and notes that “the Navajo Government did not execute any agreements” [with it]. That means there will be no Navajo Nation control of Fluor. Since it did not sign a contract with the Navajo Nation, it will likely claim that the Nation has no authority to regulate it—as a “non-Indian” corporation. If anyone doubts that, they can ask whether the Navajo Preference in Employment Act applies to the Four Corners Power Plant on Navajo Nation trust land. (The answer is that APS is free of Navajo Nation control of its labor operations.)
One of the slides talks about “Navajo opportunities” and notes that housing will be required for construction labor. I live in the area, and I have heard no discussion of any housing project near the plant. I have seen no plans for even trailer parks or the other kinds of temporary housing that usually accompany energy boom economies. They talked about buying supplies and services, but there is no projection of what will be bought or how buying goods and services will benefit Navajo business.
The only discussions I have seen about any actual benefit to the people on the land are the wish lists of false promises the Nenahnezad Chapter adopted when it approved a land withdrawal. The chapter boundary with the Burnham Chapter is unsettled, and it rejected an approval resolution (as did the Sanostee Chapter). (A news story on the Sanostee resolution said that the chapter’s “wish list” was not disclosed). The Nenahnezad resolution has a promise that Mr. Begay’s staff will help it with its Local Governance Act certification. How is that going? Why isn’t DPA helping other chapters in the area get their certifications?
The problem is that the central government in Window Rock keeps trying to fool us, “the Navajo people,” with its version of trickle-down economics. Enough is enough. Yes, the power plant and coal mine will put money into the general fund in Window Rock. Yes, there will be construction workers and plant employees with salaries. As it is with the Four Corners Power Plant and the expanded Raytheon cannon projectile factory at NAPI, the workers will get their housing and consumer goods off-reservation.
There is mention of the Conference on Climate Change that just ended in Bali, and Mr. Begay seems to think that its outcomes favor his coal-fired power plant. I’m sorry, but the news of the day is that the Bali accords call for an end to coal-fired plants, not approval of new ones. Why is there an attempt to deceive us about what happened in Bali?
We have a challenge for Stephen C. Begay and his friends at Sithe Global: Stop beating your chests. Spell it out. Precisely what economic benefits will there be for us, the local “Navajo people”? How much money will go to the chapters? How many jobs will there be? What kinds of jobs will they be? Where will the temporary and long-term workers live and spend their consumer dollars?
Tell us please, as part of the legal obligation to discuss environmental justice, how is the destruction of our traditional economy and lifestyle a “social benefit” for us?
And do read the information coming out of Bali to explain precisely how a power plant that emits pollution and greenhouse gases will be of any environmental benefit to us, “the Navajo people” who live on the land.
Elouise Brown

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Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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