MONDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2015
· Nicole Horseherder, To' Nizhoni Ani, firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mallory Kindsfather, DU Environmental Law Clinic, email@example.com
Illegal government collusion and secrecy uncovered in EPA and Dept. of Interior deal on air pollution control at Navajo Generating Station
Navajo community groups file civil action to address harmful smokestack emissions without delay
BLACK MESA, Ariz. – One of the nation's oldest and dirtiest coal-burning power plants will be able to continue dumping pollution into the skies above the Navajo Nation for another three decades because of a plan that was hatched in secrecy by government agencies, a coalition of Navajo groups claim in a complaint filed on Oct. 26, 2015.
The Navajo community organizations, To' Nizhoni Ani, Black Mesa Water Coalition, and Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment ("Diné CARE") say that newly uncovered evidence shows the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of the Interior colluded on a plan that will delay cleaning up harmful air pollution from the Navajo Generating Station ("NGS"), located on Navajo land near Page, Ariz. and Lake Powell.
"This is discrimination and genocide for our people and way of life. Our people still make a living off the land, and we have a right to participate in meetings that affect our future. This plan was brokered in secret," said Nicole Horseherder, a Black Mesa resident and founding member of To' Nizhoni Ani. "We didn't know these agencies were concocting a plan until they had already reached a final agreement that completely ignores the health and livelihoods of those who live in the shadow of the plant's smokestacks."
The Navajo Generating Station was built 40 years ago, and as the fifth largest power plant in the nation is also one of America's biggest polluters. Nowhere is the impact of the plant's toxic emissions felt greater than on the Navajo Nation, which suffers some of the highest rates of asthma and other lung problems in any community in the country.
In February 2013, the EPA proposed requiring cuts of 85 percent in the plant's harmful smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions over the next five years in order to meet clean air safeguards. Documents obtained by the groups, however, show that from March to July of that year, a working group that included the EPA and DOI met in secret to develop a plan that skirted most of the EPA's initial recommendations.
Federal open government and accountability laws require agencies to conduct their work in public. But the working group met in secret without providing any notice of its meetings or opening them to the public. To the surprise of the Navajo groups, the EPA adopted a final plan in July 2013 that will allow NGS to continue polluting the air with high levels of smog-forming nitrogen oxides for at least another 30 years, long past the expected operational life for a coal-fired power plant.
"EPA and DOI deceived the public by lying about their involvement in the working group," said Mallory Kindsfather, one of three student attorneys working on the case for the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver. "The federal government has been shutting tribal communities out of decision-making for a very long time. These violations underscore the lengths to which federal agencies are willing to go in order to silence indigenous voices."
The groups assert that what emerged from the improper and illegal behind-closed-door Federal Government agency collusion was a deal that excused the one power plant in the U.S. owned by the U.S. Government from the same kinds of timely air pollution cleanup within five years, measures being required for coal plants across the region and the country.
The groups filed their complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Francisco, where EPA Region 9 issues its regulations – more than 800 miles from the Navajo Nation. They are asking the court to overturn the plan under the grounds that it violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The facts and law at the center of this complaint are as follows:
· Through a request for public information, tribal conservation organizations uncovered emails and other correspondences pointing to the Federal Government's collusion and secrecy in establishing an advisory committee for the sole purpose of offering regulatory recommendations.
· This information supports an inference that EPA participated in the advisory committee meetings, advised along the way, and provided assurances that the advisory committee's end product would be approved.
· The advisory committee did not provide public notice of its meetings or open them to the public.
· EPA and Interior violated FACA by establishing and utilizing an advisory committee without abiding by these transparency safeguards.
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