Tag Archives: Navajo Nation Energy Policy

7/1/2011 Gallup Independent: Navajo energy vision 'a beginning,' But is it short-sighted? First in a two-part series

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.”

7/1/2011 Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy

Public comments on the Navajo Nation Energy policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle — michelle@navajonationmuseum.org. Navajo Nation Public Hearing on Energy Policy By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative: The location for last night’s public hearing on the Navajo Nation’s proposed energy policy was fitting for political theatrics – held at the UNM Student Union Building’s theater, the stage was set for Navajo Nation officials to make their case for the energy policy as currently drafted. The document at the center of discussion was the draft of the Navajo Nation Energy Policy, completed June 20th, 2011 (see copy of draft here). The UNM meeting was the last of the public hearings on the policy, meetings meant to gather public input on the draft. The Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, Harrison Tsosie, reminded the audience that this document was not a law, regulation or statute. “Instead, this policy is to serve as a vision statement for Navajo leaders and for the outside world, to then guide future decisions and laws and to ensure that in the future the Federal Government is not deciding the direction of our Dine’ people.”

There have been four prior attempts to develop such an energy policy by the Navajo Nation, with the only document that made it past draft stage being the 1980 policy. The current administration, under President Ben Shelly has made energy policy a priority.

The document supports development of renewable energy, with Navajo Nation officials admitting that in the past years there has been no clear direction, and therefore, no significant strides in this realm.

Coal and uranium appear to be the biggest points of contention in the draft policy, judging from the audience members who spoke during the public response section of the hearing.

In terms of coal, the current draft supports a coal-driven energy future for the Navajo Nation, stating, “The Nation will plan for a future that includes coal as a key component of the Nation’s energy mix…[and] will seek to shape federal fossil fuel regulation.” (Section 7)

Mario Atencio of Dine’ CARE (Coalition Against Ruining our Environment) stated that coal has no place in the energy future of the Navajo Nation, adding that he was concerned that the Navajo Green Energy Commission was not included in the drafting of the policy.

Juan Reynosa of the Sierra Club, following Mario to the microphone, seconded the opinion. “This is our opportunity to transition away from coal, switching to renewable resources. Juan talked about his work to push for tighter regulations on the Four Corners Power Plant, pointing out the un-tapped potential that wind and solar energy have in this region.

Nuclear energy and uranium is also addressed in the document with a recognition of the current ban on uranium mining that the Navajo Nation has adopted. “The Navajo Nation, nonetheless will continue to monitor uranium mining technologies and techniques…to assess the safety, viability, and potential of these activities for the future.” (Section 9).

Norman Patrick Brown of the Dine’ Bidziil (The People’s Strength) stated simply, “I don’t trust this policy. Our past shows us that energy infrastructure has been devastating to our land, our health and our way of life.” He said that from a traditional perspective, talking to Medicine Men, “I have yet to meet one person who supports any extraction from our Mother Earth of these materials.”

Additionally, there was obvious concern about those who spoke from the audience about the transparency of the process to create the draft, and at this point, the process of allowing public input to affect the final version of the document. A writer from the Navajo Times asked a pointed question to this later point – “How do you plan to share the public’s thoughts from these meetings that have been held?” Translating the answer from politico speak, it appears that the comments and written testimony will be compiled and made available on the Navajo Nation website. I could not find the policy or comments on the Navajo Nation website at the time of this article.

Public comments on the policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle — michelle@navajonationmuseum.org.

6/28/2011 Gallup Independent: Coal key part of Navajo draft energy policy

6/28/2011 Gallup Independent: Coal key part of Navajo draft energy policy By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau NEHAHNEZAD, N.M – The Navajo Nation has unveiled a draft energy policy that includes coal as a key component of the Nation’s energy mix while not closing the door to future uranium mining and nuclear power. Members of Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly’s Energy Advisory Committee unveiled the draft energy policy June 22 at Nenahnezad Chapter. A public meeting is set for 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at Howard Johnson in Gallup, and 6-9 p.m. Thursday at the UNM Student Union, SUB Theater, in Albuquerque. Additional public meetings were held last week in Shonto, Cameron and Phoenix. “We have an energy policy that was adopted by the Navajo Nation Council in 1980 and then from that period of time there have been various policies that have been developed by different administrations,” Attorney General Harrison Tsosie said. “Some of those policies were presented to the Navajo Nation Council but never approved.” The new draft also will be presented to Council and if adopted, Shelly’s initiative will be the framework for future Navajo energy development.

“We think this is important. It’s the livelihood of the Navajo Nation,” Fred White, executive director of the Division of Natural Resources, said.

Coal and coal-fired plants are a significant component of the Navajo economy and the Nation’s revenues, according to the draft. As a coal producer that derives a significant amount of royalties, rent, fees, jobs and tax revenue from coal mining and production of electricity from coal, the Nation will seek to shape federal fossil fuel legislation and adapt to the new federal regulatory environment, it states.

In addition, Navajo will support newer and more efficient coal technologies being developed which lessen environmental impacts and maximize the efficient use of Navajo coal. The Nation also will continue to develop a renewable portfolio of power generating facilities that balances coal-fired generation and renewable energy generation, and will evaluate the appropriateness of implementing a Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

Section 9, on nuclear matters, states that the Nation currently supports a ban on uranium mining in Navajo Indian Country. “The Nation nonetheless will continue to monitor uranium mining technologies and techniques, as well as market conditions for uranium mining and nuclear electricity generation to assess the safety, viability and potential of these activities for the future.”

Michele Morris, Shelly’s director for Policy and Management, said, “Right now we are not entertaining any new development in uranium. President Shelly and Vice President (Rex Lee) Jim’s priority for the administration currently is to comply with our existing law, which is the moratorium on uranium mining. Our goal is to comply with that until the public or the Council – the bodies that be – make the decision to change that decision.”

The Navajo Nation approved the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act in 2005 banning uranium mining and processing within reservation borders. Nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore was extracted from 1944 to 1986 under lease agreements with the Navajo Nation. In 2007, with the help of a congressional committee, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency became the lead federal agency in a five-year plan to clean up more than 500 abandoned uranium mines, contaminated groundwater and structures, and a former radioactive dump site. Emergency cleanup action has begun at three abandoned mines while assessments continue.

The draft energy policy calls for the Nation to establish energy corridors to manage the impact on Navajo communities resulting from future electrical transmission, pipeline and railroad infrastructure. This new infrastructure will provide Navajo an opportunity to unlock the value of its vast energy resources by providing transmission corridors to metropolitan centers.

A Navajo Energy Office made up of Executive Branch officials selected by the president is proposed to be established to act as a clearinghouse for energy-related projects and to facilitate energy development. A budget also must be appropriated.

White said that that last spring the Nation decided to re-energize the energy policy planning process. In partnership with the Department of Energy, an Energy Efficiency grant was obtained and a scope of work developed. Sandia National Laboratory was asked to facilitate meetings with stakeholders. Meetings were held in July, September and October with industries focused on fossil fuels and renewables, as well as Navajo leaders and individuals concerned about the environment.

A chronological order of energy decisions dating to 1923-24 as developed. They looked at work done in the 1970s that resulted in an Energy Policy adopted by the tribal Council in 1980, work done by former President Peterson Zah in the early 1990s that resulted in an energy policy statement, and work done by White’s predecessor, Arvin Trujillo.

But last October they hit a wall, bogged down by election year politics. “Nobody was interested in talking about energy policy,” White said. It was put on hold until the new administration and the 24-member Council settled in.

“The decision was to take the policy from the ’80s that was already adopted by Council and use that format and make amendments to it,” White said.

Steven Gundersen of Tallsalt Advisors in Scottsdale is serving as a consultant on development of the policy. Gundersen presented the draft to a small but curious audience at Nenahnezad, some of whom drove at least four hours from Cameron to hear the presentation.

“The policies are intended to be rather brief and rather broad,” he said. “The energy policies are directions we want to move in but are not laws.”

Tsosie said comments received from the public are “suggestions” that will be reviewed but not necessarily included in the document. “The reason for that is that the Navajo people elected certain representatives to establish policy for them and that body is the Navajo Nation Council and the president of the Navajo Nation. So this policy-setting effort is under delegation from the people to those elected officials.

“We are drafting the policy pursuant to those delegations. We’re not actually making laws. These will not be codified in the Navajo Nation Code, but it’s a document that we will use in making decisions regarding energy development on the Navajo Nation,” he said. Council first must rescind the 1980 Energy Policy.

Citing the preamble to the proposed policy, Gundersen said the Nation is establishing the energy policy to protect its natural resources and assets for the benefit of the Dine to create a self-sustaining economic future and to ensure sovereign control over the extraction and flow of resources.

Lease rent, royalty rates and charges for easements and rights of way will be equal to or greater than fair market value. When negotiating renewals, the Nation will maximize the total value of consideration. Project developers will be required to return the land to its original condition, or better, at the end of the project.

The Nation hopes to maximize revenues from large-scale energy developments by promoting Navajo majority ownership, but may designate an entity such as Navajo Tribal Utility Authority as its representative. Communities impacted by energy development will have the opportunity to provide input, and where adversely impacted, to share in a portion of the financial benefits of such projects.

Members of the Energy Advisory Committee include White, Tsosie, Raymond Benally, Stephen B. Etsitty, Martin Ashley, Akhtar Zaman, Albert Damon, Raymond Maxx, Mike Halona and Irma Roanhorse. Michele Henry is the administrator for the Energy Advisory Committee and Energy Office.

Deadline for comment originally was scheduled for July 15, but Morris said they are adding four town hall meetings and extending the comment period to the end of July. There is no deadline mentioned in the announcement from the Navajo Energy Office and no schedule posted on the new meetings. Comments may be sent to michelle@navajonationmuseum.org . The policy is available for download at www.navajo-nsn.gov .