Coal transition is the goal – how to get it is the question | Cronkite News
WASHINGTON – Witnesses Navajo and Hopi agreed the region must move away from its economic dependence on coal, but specific proposals on how to get there remained elusive after a House hearing on Tuesday.
Tribal representatives joined witnesses from across the coalfield in a Chamber hearing on “supporting communities throughout the energy transition” – a transition that has been particularly difficult in northeastern Arizona. The recent mine closures have left hundreds of people unemployed in an area where unemployment rates are chronically high.
“Our Navajo Nation government’s gross revenues from coal revenues have declined sharply and we still haven’t found a way to replace revenues in the next few years,” said Rickie Nez, Navajo Council member.
Nose said that while the transition away from coal has been “very painful”, tribal communities like hers are built on “a wealth of natural resources, including essential minerals and rare earth elements necessary to make a transition to coal. renewable energies”. The region has the natural resources to bounce back if the federal government stops putting up barriers to development, he said.
“We believe we have the right and the responsibility to develop and manage these resources,” said Nez, who is also chair of the board’s resources and development committee. “Sadly, it is estimated that 86% of Indian lands that have this potential for mineral wealth remain underdeveloped due to the often strict federal government regulations on Indian property.”
But other witnesses have said that before moving forward, the government must ensure that mining companies clean up what they have left behind.
“We, the Hopi, are very concerned that virtually nothing is being done to repair and rehabilitate our land which has been damaged and destroyed by more than half a century of coal mining at Black Mesa,” said said Ben Nuvamsa, executive director of the KIVA Institute and a former president of the Hopi tribe.
Nuvamsa, in common testimony with Tó Nizhóní Executivení’s executive director, Nicole Horseherder, said the federal government should focus on repairing environmental damage caused by coal mines.
“Half a century of coal mining and water abstraction by Peabody has left extensive damage at the two mine sites that remain unanswered for years after the shutdown,” said Horseherder, founder of the local Navajo group.
Peabody, who operated the Kayenta mine, declined a request for comment.
The Kayenta mine closed when its only customer, the nearby coal-fired Navajo plant, ceased operations in 2019. Most of the workers were Navajo or Hopi.
The Salt River project, which owned the Navajo power plant, said in 2017 that it was no longer economically possible to operate the coal plant in the face of competition from cheaper natural gas power plants.
But Republicans on the committee have repeatedly pointed to Kayenta as evidence of the failure of democratic environmental policy.
“We are here today to hear various witnesses complain about the loss of jobs in the coal industry in Arizona and New Mexico that are a direct result of the Obama administration’s war on coal,” said Tuesday Representative Paul Gosar, R-Prescott.
Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., Said Republicans have been talking about the issue since before the closure of Kayenta and the Navajo Power Plant.
“They rightly warned that the economic impacts would be long-lasting and that jobs would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace in the short term,” Stauber said. “They were right.”
Whatever the cause, Horseherder and Nuvamsa said the Federal Office of Surface Mine Recovery and Enforcement (OSMRE) “fails miserably” in its job of holding Peabody accountable for returning land to the tribes. “in as good condition as received”, as required by surface mine control and Reclamation Act.
Joseph Pizarchik, former director of OSMRE, acknowledged these shortcomings, but said no one could have predicted the collapse of the coal mines when the law was drafted decades ago.
“Parts of the SMCRA are not providing OSMRE and states with the tools they need to effectively manage the current industry crisis,” Pizarchik said. “We have problems to sort out. Some states fail to effectively enforce the law.
Horseherder and Nuvamsa testified that OSMRE’s communication failed, making tribal participation and monitoring of the reclamation process “incredibly difficult”. Their groups had to hire someone to travel to Denver to scan hard copies of the OSMRE documents that are supposed to be online, they said.
They called on the government to demand that Peabody “allow the full participation and involvement of our tribes to help determine the scope and direction of the reclamation,” a move they say could mean jobs for laid-off miners. .
Marie Cromer, deputy director of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, agreed that “Mine reclamation work is often done by people who were previously employed to extract coal. By demanding rapid reclamation, OSMRE will also preserve vital jobs in coal communities. “
Whatever happens, tribal representatives have said they need to be included in decision-making.
“The Indian country and the Navajo nation must be at the table to discuss America’s energy future and transition,” Nez said.
In the meantime, he said, the Navajo Nation will be pushing to keep the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant plan operational until 2031.
“We only have 10 years to responsibly transition our economy and our jobs to a new energy future,” Nez said.