Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dirty coal and ash on the Navajo Nation

In a time of Monsters, coal mining and dirty power plants on Navajoland

By Brenda Norrell

Dailan J. Long, community organizer with Dine' Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (Dine' CARE) exposes one of the toxic realities of power plants for Navajos: coal ash. Long, Navajo, is among those fighting the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant.

Long sends in these photos of the coal ponds just west of Four Corners Power Plant on the Navajo Nation land near Farmington, N.M.

"This highly toxic waste consists of fly ash which becomes most airborne on windy days, covering most communities downwind towards Shiprock," Long said. "Desert Rock will add millions of tons of this waste into our land, polluting our aquifers and compromising our respiratory health.

"We have at least 60 millions tons of this from Four Corners and 65 millions tons from San Juan Generating Station = 125 million tons! We have the largest mine filling site in North America," Long said.

The sad truth is that while Navajo leaders mourn the loss of traditions and speak out about protecting Mother Earth, simultaneously Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr., and the Navajo Nation Council continue to push for a third power plant here, the Desert Rock Power Plant, and expanded coal mining.

The royalties and taxes from energy corporations are largely what pays the salaries and travel expenses of elected Navajo leader, including the 88 council delegates. Meanwhile, many of the Navajos who live with the destruction and pollution are forced to live without running water and electricity.
The Desert Rock Energy Project , the proposed 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant planned for the Navajo Nation in Northwest New Mexico, would be the third major coal-fired facility within a 15-mile radius in the San Juan River Basin.

Navajos opposing the power plant, Dooda Desert Rock, said the project would accelerate environmental degradation in the Four Corners, a National Sacrifice Area notorious for runaway energy development and lax governmental oversight.

Layne Corporation of Denver, Colorado, a water well drilling contractor for Sithe Global LLC (Sithe), Desert Rock Energy Company, and Dine Power Authority vacated the area of the proposed Desert Rock Energy Facility in Ram Springs, NM., on September 27.

Dooda Desert Rock President Elouise Brown said that a categorical exclusion issued by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the promoters of the planned mine-mouth coal-fired power plant had intended for drill tests to be completed in 45 days. However, activity at the drill site actually dragged on for 300 days.

Water drilling tests conducted for Desert Rock have not conclusively determined how drilling in the Morrison Aquifer would interact with groundwater sources used by local tribal members for domestic use, including drinking water, she said.

Brown said in response to the corporation’s exploratory work, Navajo Elders of Dooda’ (NO) Desert Rock established a resistance camp at Ram Springs on December 12, 2006. Since then, the elders have been day-to-day eye witnesses to the damage done in the drilling process, and the overall shoddy workmanship at the site.

During the nine month intrusion, the vicinity of the site has been overrun and abused. Vegetation has been destroyed, as heavy equipment has operated outside the designated area, and the land has been fouled with a grayish, muddy sludge.
“These are open wounds in our Mother Earth! Who knows how much damage has been done,” said Brown. “We can only hope that our water and lands have not been badly contaminated and that they clean up after themselves and reclaim the grounds.”
Brown said project promoters keep offering the public assurances that construction of their Desert Rock Energy Facility will start as planned in March of 2008, but the project has been hamstrung by the failure of Sithe to acquire or receive necessary permits, environmental issues (including those raised by the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Fish & Wildlife Service), and the lack of a proven, available water source and secured water rights threaten to derail the entire project.

“We are being treated like unwelcome guests in our own home,” said Elder, Pauline Gilmore, vice president of DDR. “Why do our leaders continue to disrespect our ancestral lands?”
Photos 1 and 2: Coal ash and Four Corners power plant. Photo 3 and 4: Layne water drillers live land 5: Burnham Chapter voices opposition.

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