Dooda Desert Rock: Fighting the good fight

July 31, 2008
Contact: Elouise Brown,
Dooda’ Desert Rock Committee President505-947-6159

(Photo: Polar bears are the victims of the Navajo Nation and other US power plants which emit black carbons, resulting in the melting Arctic ice and destruction of homelands for polar bears, walrus and seals.)

Yesterday’s AP article and a recent Daily Times piece assume that today is the deadline for an EPA decision. That is not what the June 11, 2008 notice in the Federal Register says. The paragraph that starts at the bottom of the left column on the second page makes it clear that the Agency will not make a decision on whether or not to withdraw consent to the consent decree until notice is published, comments are received from the public, and the EPA or the Justice Department made a decision on whether the public comments show that “consent is inappropriate, improper, inadequate, or inconsistent with the requirements of the [Clean Air] Act.”
We hear that the EPA did issue the permit, so if that decision is “final” the debate will likely shift to federal judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act, with one more issue on whether the decision to ignore public comment and our points was an “abuse of discretion.”
It is interesting that the Dine Power Authority justified its request for $1 million in a “supplemental” appropriation for ongoing operations near the end of the fiscal year because of threatened litigation by environmental groups. When Dooda made its opposition to the request public, the head of the Authority specifically mentioned its threatened litigation. Frank Maisano did the same (mentioning “environmentalists”) in the AP piece. What point are they trying to make? How much money are the developers throwing at the Maisano law firm for propaganda?
This is our observation: We met with Merv Tano of the International Institute for Indigenous Management in workshops at an Indian environmental conference in Billings, Montana at the end of June. We discussed our views of how EPA environmental justice policies apply to the debate. While Merv (who is a Native Hawaiian attorney) said he does not support or oppose the plant, he pointed out that quibbling about scientific issues — such as air quality — does not help indigenous peoples. The environmental justice discussion should be about their values, traditions and their decisions about how they are going to handle their own resources. The federal environmental justice policy makes it clear that the “they” is the people on the ground and not a central bureaucracy. That kind of discussion is something that the Desert Rock debate has avoided thus far. What do the people think about coal development and power plants? What do the people think about wind power? What do the chapters think about being excluded when Window Rock starts some new “economic development” project? Is “economic development” for the benefit of the bureaucracy or for the people? The only thing we’ve heard about “shoes for the kiddies” is that it’s about a trickle-down from Window Rock.
We should have the opportunity to talk about real environmental justice. The developers still have to go to the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency for an air permit. We are studying the scope of authority of the Navajo Nation EPA at this stage, and other provisions of Navajo Nation environmental law to see what options we have and what kinds of permits the Nation’s EPA handles.
Navajo Nation statutes and regulations require public notice and a hearing for permits, and Navajo Nation law allows extensive public participation. The Navajo Nation EPA recognizes that The Fundamental Laws of the Dine apply to its operations and the Natural Law provisions apply here.
We are not talking about litigation — yet. We are talking about an opportunity for a genuine public debate. The environmental impact statement talks were dog-and-pony shows that were controlled by the developers. We want to see adequate notice to the Navajo Nation public, debates that are not controlled by developers or an industry-friendly federal agency, and meaningful discussion of Navajo values. A lot of them will be and should be in Navajo. We intend to talk about Navajo Natural Law and Navajo environmental justice.
We look for an opportunity for meaningful discussion — following the Navajo tradition of talking things out.


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