7/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo energy vision ‘a beginning,’ But is it short-sighted? First in a two-part series By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: GALLUP – The Navajo Nation’s draft energy policy, or “vision statement,” does not dwell on past mistakes. The forward-looking document focuses on a balanced, multi-pronged approach to shape the Nation’s energy future, according to President Ben Shelly’s energy team, which presented the draft Wednesday evening at a public meeting in Gallup. While audience members hailed the policy was “a beginning” and commended the team for its hard work, they also were quick to point out where the policy appeared to be short-sighted. For starters, the grassroots Navajo people were not consulted, according to Teddy Nez of Churchrock. “Also, as a matrilineal society, it’s shocking that there’s no women” on the Energy Advisory Committee, Nikki Alex of Dilkon, an independent researcher and policy analyst, said. The committee is made up of division directors and program managers from within the Executive Branch.
“The Navajo people have the right to incorporate Dine Fundamental Law into the Navajo Nation’s Energy Policy, yet in all documentation there is no mention of it. This is an outrage since our elected officials use the Dine Fundamental Law as a defense for their decisions that are often detrimental to our Navajo Life Way or to undermine our laws for their own gain or defense,” Mervyn Tilden of Gallup said.
Audience members were given three minutes each to present their remarks and were cautioned to address what was in the policy, not events of the past, as they could spend days talking about past wrongs. Many members of the audience disagreed, however, including George Arthur, former Navajo Nation Council delegate.
“I think we need to keep an open mind about what happened in the past. The past is what develops the future. I’ve been at the negotiating table with Mr. (Louis) Denetsosie and others here. It’s very difficult to be at the negotiation table when the rules are already developed by your counterparts that are sitting across from you,” he said.
“There was a statement made early on about looking to the future. … Ladies and gentlemen, the only thing that’s in the future that’s on the table that can be talked about is Peabody and Navajo Generating Station. Everything else has been negotiated.”
Former Navajo Nation President Milton Bluehouse Sr. said the Indian Mineral Leasing Act allows Navajo to name its price, rather than settling for the 12.5 percent coal royalty discussed in the Peabody Energy Co. lease reopener which is expected to come up during Council’s summer session.
“It’s got to be a lot more,” he said. “People that are affected out there, like Black Mesa, they were promised roads, houses, water, electricity and all of this. At the onset they were lied to. … Let’s do something about it and let’s put something in this policy so people get advantage of it.”
Ed Becenti of St. Michaels agreed. “The act of 1938, the Indian Minerals Leasing Act, gave Indian tribes the ability and power to negotiate their own lease. Why not go back and ask for retro payments from all of these energy companies. We have some leases that are coming up for renewal. This is the time for the energy policy task team to address them – not to rush into them and make some bad choices again.”
Others such as Alex noted the lack of language in regard to transitioning from finite resources such as fossil fuels to a green economy. “I really want to emphasize that nuclear is not the future. Clean coal is not the future. Why are we going to put ourselves as guinea pigs again for this new industry? … I understand the importance of economic development, but social aspects, economic aspects, health aspects and environmental aspects are important as well. It’s not just about money.”
Anna Rondon, chair of the Green Economy Commission, disagree with Attorney General Harrison Tsosie that the policy did not need to go out for a formal public hearing as is done in rulemaking hearings.
“I believe any public policy that impacts people, especially Dine people, should be given out as a public hearing campaign to be recorded by a court reporter because this might come back in the future and there may be lawsuits because it wasn’t adhered to. If this policy is going to the Navajo Nation Council, it goes into the Legislative Branch, so the play on the words kind of gets to me. Is this another ploy?”
Rondon said she also would like to dispel the myth that they are environmentalists who want to shut down the coal-fired power plants. “We want to help balance the dirty-based economy that we have with a green, clean economy for future generations. I would like to know what are your guiding principles? Ours, as a commission, is the Dine Fundamental Law. We just had a prayer talking about our sacred elements. There is a lack of sacredness, there’s an absence of holiness” in the policy, she said.
Amber Crotty of Sheepsprings, a policy analyst at Dine Policy Institute, said, “Now that we know that some of these leases are far into the future, how do we get this equal or greater fair market value when a majority of the leases now are in the hopper for the next 25 years?”
Dana Eldridge of Cornfields, also a researcher at Dine Policy Institute, said she believes it is very critical for the Navajo Nation to transition its energy economy.
“We need to be diversifying our energy sources. Part of the transitioning needs to support the coal mine workers we care so much about. We hear that as a justification to continue coal mining, but I really, firmly believe that we need to be transitioning to renewable sources and in that process have a support system for those workers. We need to be moving at a rate faster than the U.S., because they’re not moving fast enough and their scientists predict catastrophic energy issues for the U.S. as a whole, so we really should be at the forefront of a transitioning economy.”
Eldridge said the commitment to renewables within the energy policy is very weak when compared to the economic goals, and if the Nation is moving toward energy sovereignty, it needs to take out the middle man. In addition, there needs to be a holistic analysis on the cost of coal.
“What are the health care costs that our communities are facing? What are the environmental costs going to be? What are the cost of tourism dollars that we’re losing from people who don’t want to visit our states any more because they’re so hazy?
“I was in Shiprock just yesterday, and it’s such a big indicator of the environmental racism that we have put on our own people. These people don’t benefit from the energy development; they just suffer from the environmental consequences. Let’s not continue this legacy of environmental racism in our own lands.”