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Closing the Navajo Generating Station comes with disastrous consequences.

Byline: Guest Opinion

Tribal land just outside of Page, Arizona, is home to the largest coal-fired power plant in the Western United States: the Navajo Generating Station (NGS). The 2,250-megawatt plant and the nearby Kayenta Mine, from which NGS procures all of its coal, are at the center of a contentious debate over the future of the regions power grid. Citing the costs of complying with federal environmental regulations and responding to the declining prices of natural gas, NGSs owners voted earlier this year to take the facility offline about 25 years ahead of schedule. Those same factors have driven the closures of many coal-fired electricity generating plants nationwide. What makes the prospective shuttering of NGS different is its profound human impact on some of the poorest communities in the United States. Closing the Navajo Generating Station would amount to an economic catastrophe for the Hopi and Navajo tribes, and an existential threat to their very ways of life. With unemployment rates as high as 42 percent within tribal communities surrounding the NGS and the Kayenta Mine, which straddles Hopi and Navajo lands, opportunities for work are scarce. Breadwinners often are forced to leave their homes and even the state in search of jobs, putting distance between families and draining vitality from their ancestral homes. NGS and the Kayenta Mine together support more than 1,000 direct jobs. Eight hundred of those positions are filled by members of the Hopi and Navajo communities. In an area where poverty is widespread, every paycheck is critical to the local economy. The jobs pay extremely well tribal leaders estimate that each person employed at the two facilities earns enough to support between 20 and 30 members of the community. The impact of plant closure goes beyond lost jobs. Also gone in the wake of early closure would be large fractions of the Hopi and Navajo tribal budgets, which derive 5 percent and 22 percent, respectively, of their annual general funds from revenue collected from the Navajo Generating Stations customers and royalties generated by the Kayenta Mines coal production. Economic dependence on the Navajo Generating Station may seem excessive, but it is important to remember that that dependence is by design. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has condemned the tribal peoples under its jurisdiction to poverty for more than a century. More to the point, among the many reasons the federal government endorsed the construction of the Navajo Generating Station in 196 was its potential to support tribal economies. Some of the power generated by NGS is used to pump water through the canals of the Central Arizona Project, which flows to tribes downstream as well as to the thirsty city of Phoenix. The Central Arizona Project will be forced to find an alternative power source if the plant is closed. Because of the absence of alternatives, at least in the short run, rates for water and electricity are likely to rise once NGS is off the grid. Closing NGS and the Kayenta Mine wont end federal responsibilities to the tribal communities that will bear the brunt of early decommissioning. The loss of 00 jobs and incomes that now support 1,600 to 2,400 other Hopi and Navajo will throw that many people onto the public assistance rolls, helping perpetuate the welfare dependency that is one of the BIAs most shameful legacies. It is imperative that a new ownership structure be arranged to keep the Navajo Generating Station in operation for many years to come. It wont be easy. One of the owners, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, wants to keep NGS open until 2019, as of course tribal leaders do. Delaying decommissioning may not make the Environmental Protection Agency happy, but its the right thing to do for Arizonas taxpayers, and its the right thing to do for the Hopi and Navajo economies. William F. Shughart II, research director of the Independent Institute, is ?J. Fish Smith professor in public choice at Utah State Universitys Huntsman ?School of Business. ___________________________________________________________ The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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Publication:Arizona Capitol Times
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Nov 16, 2017
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