Reader View: Navajo Nation can move away from coal

The opportunity has presented itself once more, and the time is now for the Navajo Nation to transition itself away from the coal industry.

To do this will require a coordinated effort of many to whom this letter is addressed: “I am a coal man,” says Speaker of Council, Delegate Lorenzo Bates. I’d like to know, when the coal is all gone, what kind of man he will be.

The reason Arizona’s Salt River Project leads energy production in Arizona is because the Salt River Project refuses to just be “a coal man.” The Salt River Project understands that to remain cost-competitive and in control of Arizona’s energy, it must not only be a coal man, but also a gas man, a hydro man and even a renewable man. Both Arizona Public Service and the Salt River Project have once again secured the energy market in Arizona because they refuse to be only a coal man.

Hybrid plants have popped up all over central and southern Arizona, including wind generators and solar facilities. Leadership like that from Delegate Bates is a reason the Navajo Nation will remain at or above 50 percent unemployment for decades to come. There has been a refusal to acknowledge the crashing coal market and to invest in and to deploy the cleanest and most cost-effective technology available to generate renewable energy. The Navajo Nation no longer can afford the harmful costs and risks associated with coal, fracking and uranium.

How many more citizens will have to die at the hands of cancer, poisoned water and black lung before we decide to factor in the real costs of the fossil fuel industry? Additionally, we have not addressed the unregulated, toxic pile of coal ash waste on the reservation left by coal plants — millions of tons of coal ash that will leach into the ground and into the groundwater, contaminating our precious water sources.

Let’s ask Salt River Project senior management, which has the means to do what’s right for the Navajo Nation, to provide lifetime health care and compensate our workers. Let’s urge true beneficial use for the aging Navajo Generation Station plant to transform the property to a solar energy plant. To be clear, we want transition to a solar plant and not a gas plant.

How many other utility companies have dominated energy with the backing of the federal government? The Department of Interior and its arm, the Bureau of Reclamations, pressured the Navajo Nation to give up both land and water for the Navajo Generation Station plant. In addition, the coal and groundwater from Black Mesa was committed to the Navajo Generation Station plant. Since the operation began, the Salt River Project has enjoyed free rights-of-way, free water from the Colorado River and low, low coal prices.

This was accomplished at the expense of Navajos and Hopis on Black Mesa. In a place with less than 8 inches of rainfall per year, the cost for a well to the only source of drinking water for Navajos and Hopis on Black Mesa costs approximately $1 million per well. Today, this sole-source drinking water is more than 2,000 feet in the ground. The combined Navajo Generation Station and Peabody operation has resulted in the drawdown and contamination to Black Mesa’s only drinking water source.

Now is the time for Diné to demand renewable energy. We owe it to the future generations to protect the place we call home. Demanding a just transition that will ensure retraining and jobs is the moral and ethical action to take.

Nicole Horseherder is lifetime resident of Black Mesa in northeast Arizona. Nicole has bachelor’s and a master’s degrees and is a Navajo Nation tribal member advocating for the protection of Black Mesa water resources.

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Reader View: Crisis is opportunity for Four Corners region

In 1973, facing an energy crisis fueled by the OPEC oil embargo, President Richard Nixon made a series of decisions that put our nation on a path toward energy independence. One of those decisions was to designate the Four Corners region as a “national energy sacrifice zone.”

For the past five decades, the region’s coal mines, power plants, oil and gas wells, and uranium mines helped power our nation — creating well-paying jobs and a healthy regional economy. However, falling gas prices and the decline of the coal industry have led to high unemployment and a rapidly declining population in the Four Corners. In fact, Farmington (in the heart of the Four Corners) is, per capita, the fastest shrinking city in America.

Those trends will only worsen in the short term as cheaper and cleaner alternatives to coal drive utility companies to abandon and close the Navajo Generating Station, likely by 2019, and the San Juan Generating Station, likely by 2022, both decades before planned.

But every crisis offers an opportunity. The best solution for addressing the region’s economic crisis will also help solve the climate crisis, as well as repair some of the collateral damage caused by Nixon’s policy. While that policy helped power our nation, we now know the costs of this “sacrifice zone” have been tremendous — desecrated sacred sites, contaminated water, poisoned air, volatile economies and a global hotspot for methane.

We now have an opportunity to remake the Four Corners’ economic identity. We can remake this region into a model of democratized and decentralized renewable energy that achieves real energy independence. The Interior Department and our leaders in Congress could help lead the way.

The stakes are high. Lives, livelihoods and living, vibrant communities on and off the Navajo Nation are all at risk. Not only does San Juan County in northwestern New Mexico suffer from some of the worst asthma rates in the country, high crime rates are endemic and unemployment rates are nearing 10 percent.

By anyone’s account the region’s economy is on life support. And while it’s true that the region has for decades been susceptible to the boom and bust cycle that characterize the fossil fuel energy industry, this time it feels like the end of the era of unbridled fossil fuel extraction.

Because it’s not only the coal industry that’s in trouble. The collapse of oil prices and the growing public outcry against fracking in the Greater Chaco region means that the economic future of oil and gas will never be as bright as its past. Recognizing the expansion of drilling onto the doorstep of Chaco Culture National Historic Park, the Navajo Nation, the All Pueblo Council and the New Mexico Legislature all recently expressed support for a moratorium on developing the last undeveloped 9 percent of land.

So what’s next for this iconic region?

We know what the Trump administration wants: More exploitation that enriches Big Oil and Big Coal. They’re throwing a Hail Mary to try to extend the life of Navajo Generating Station while stripping away national monument protections for places like the Bears Ears, all in a short-sighted attempt to drill and mine our way to energy independence. While that may keep a few jobs and vital tax revenues in the short-term, it’s not a lasting and vibrant vision.

A bold, new vision of 100 percent renewable energy can create the durable, vibrant economy that people in the region deserve while respecting sacred lands and healing the climate crisis. Wind and solar power also meet the challenge of providing real, lasting energy independence.

We believe the site of mines and power plants on public lands should be redeveloped as solar plants, and the transmission lines that today move coal-fired electricity should instead transmit wind and solar power. Likewise, Congress should pass tax incentives to help the Navajo Nation benefit economically from solar and wind development. Many other solutions could become a reality with the modest support of federal agencies.

Which is why we’re calling on New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and the Interior Department to help advance a new vision by convening a transition summit to marshal all the resources of the federal government to help the Navajo Nation and local cities and counties to envision and implement a more sustainable economy in the region.

Just as crisis was an opportunity for Nixon in 1973 to exploit the region, so too can it be an opportunity for our leaders to create a more economically just and equitable energy economy that is suited for out times and meant to last.

John Horning is executive director of the WildEarth Guardians.

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Reader View: A victory for PNM investors and our community

Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2017 7:00 pm

Public Service Company of New Mexico tried in recent weeks to make it harder for its investors and the public to judge whether its plans for the future make economic and environmental sense. Fortunately, it failed (“SEC: Disclosure resolutions can be voted on by shareholders,” March 2).

PNM Shareholders for a Responsible Future has submitted a number of shareholder resolutions to the company in the past two years. These proposals were intended to encourage PNM to plan actively for the inevitable transition to renewable energy and to inform its investors of those plans.


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PNM should come clean on renewable energy costs

Senator Joseph Cervantes is sponsoring legislation in the 2017 NM legislative session to promote greater efficiency and openness in how we New Mexicans have our energy needs met. In a nutshell, Senate bill 360 requires investor-owner utilities (IOUs) like Public Service Company of New Mexico to obtain competitive market bids through a request for proposal process when they seek to add new generation capacity, and mandates the bidding process is analyzed and overseen by an independent party. This new process is designed to be transparent, fair and indeed comprehensible to both the public and regulators alike.


Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Competitive bidding is a staple of the American economy. State law already requires utilities like PNM to select the least-cost solutions to energy problems with a clear preference for more environmentally friendly solutions, so there is already some comparison shopping in the process. A number of states, including Arizona, Colorado and Oklahoma, have enacted similar laws, and the proposed legislation is in line with industry standards. Overall, the proposed process exemplifies what we want when we talk about good governance: it’s open, unbiased and mindful of the public good.


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City of SF - Resolution in Support of Standing Rock

City of Santa Fe, New Mexico LEGISLATIVE SUMMARY Resolution No. 2016- Standing Rock Support SPONSOR(S): Mayor Gonzales and Councilors Lindell and Villarreal SUMMARY: The proposed resolution supports the peaceful protest in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline to protect treaty rights, sovereignty and natural resources and applaudes the administration's decision to reroute the project and conduct a full environmental impact statement. PREPARED BY: Rebecca Seligman, Legislative Liaison Assistant FISCAL IMP ACT: No DATE: December 7, 2016 ·ATTACHMENTS: Resolution 
City of SF - Resolution in Support of Standing Rock


New Mexico Stands with Standing Rock

New Mexico Mobilizes for Standing Rock

Yet far from the sensationalist media circus, defining issues of race and class, human and civil rights, police militarization and constitutional guarantees, corporate and  civic power, and the fossil fuel economy and climate change, are all being played out on a little patch of land in North Dakota called Standing Rock.

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Mayor's Sustainability Award winners announced

And the winners are ....

The city of Santa Fe today announced the winners of the Mayor’s Sustainability Awards.

“These Santa Fe businesses, non-profits, leaders and city employees are doing the kind of hard work that will move the needle on lowering our carbon footprint and preparing us for the negative impacts of climate change,” Mayor Javier Gonzales said in a statement. “Congratulations to all of them, and a big thank you for their continued dedication.”

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Protest against North Dakota pipeline draws growing New Mexico support

Reports that crews are bulldozing sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux, and that security guards for the company building a $3.8 billion pipeline in North Dakota attacked American Indian demonstrators with dogs and pepper spray, spread rapidly through Indian Country last weekend. The Sioux protest is drawing strong support in New Mexico, where more than two dozen organizations have signed a letter to the president and the state’s congressional delegation supporting the tribe’s resistance and its lawsuit seeking to stop construction of the pipeline along the proposed route.

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Facebook or no, some say alternative energy plan could benefit NM

The buzz surrounding the proposed Facebook data center in Los Lunas has mostly centered on the potential economic impact of bringing the social media giant to New Mexico. But some say an equally exciting aspect of the project is the “green rider” contained in a contract between Facebook and the state’s largest utility. “It’s a good, balanced model for how other companies could come into this state and have all their energy needs provided by renewables,” said Steve Michel, attorney for Western Resource Advocates, an intervening party when the contract was before state regulators.

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Reader View: Turn challenge into opportunity — switch to renewable energy

I am a local actor, playwright and film curator who is concerned about the future of my community and the world at large. In December 2015, the Public Regulation Commission approved the Public Service Company of New Mexico’s request for more coal and nuclear. Fortunately, New Energy Economy is appealing that unsupported decision in the New Mexico Supreme Court. PNM has doubled down and invested in even more coal and more nuclear in this pending rate case.

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