Feds stall on Native sovereignty and economic development

The Navajo Nation is planning on building a coal-fired power plant near Burnham, NM. It applied for an air permit from the Environmental Protection Agency in early 2004, but still hasn’t received permission to begin construction. The Diné Power Authority, a Navajo enterprise, filed a lawsuit against the EPA on March 18 attempting to force the federal agency to make a decision on the permit, according to the Albuquerque Journal (Navajo Enterprise Sues EPA Over Proposed Power Plant, Mar. 19, 2008). “The lawsuit claims the tribe is losing $5 million in… revenue for every month the permit is delayed.”
“The EPA says it was initially delayed by climate-modeling uncertainties… and then by nearly 1,000 mostly negative comments posted on the agency’s Web site,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican (‘We want the smoke to stop’, May 21, 2008). The Feds say they have to respond to every comment before issuing a permit.
With improved emissions technology, the new Desert Rock Energy Facility will be able to crank out ¾ of the electricity with only 1/5 of the emissions currently being produced by the Four Corners Power Plant in Fruitland, NM (The New Mexican). On top of that, the operators of the new facility are “exploring options that may prepare the project to capture and sequester CO2 emissions from the plant in the future when technology exists that makes this process technically and economically feasible.”
On March 19, New Mexico Environment Secretary Ron Curry, who has a hand in delaying the permit along with the EPA, issued a statement that said, “We respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and the rights of tribal governments to determine their economic futures and to pursue positive change within their communities. However, the responsibility of taking strong action to combat global climate change is one we must all share.”
Curry is operating in quite a paradox. If the government recognizes the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, then why is it being prohibited from starting a project that will “bring $52 million a year in revenues to the tribal government and provide up to 400 jobs on a reservation where unemployment hovers around 50 percent” (The New Mexican)?
This anti-development mentality on the part of outsiders, mostly wealthy outsiders, was the point of the Rio Grande Foundation’s recent showings of the film Mine Your Own Business. In fact, the film drew a crowd of nearly 100 to Farmington for a showing of the film.