EPA May Block Navajo Coal Site

Published April 1, 2009

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to review permits that would allow the Navajo Nation to build a clean-burning coal power plant on tribal lands in northwestern New Mexico.

The Navajo consider the proposed Desert Rock Energy Station a promising means of escaping generations of abject poverty, but environmental activist groups argue EPA should ban the construction of all coal power plants.

The Desert Rock Energy Station would provide electric power for Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and other southwestern cities. It would be built on the Navajo Nation reservation, which is roughly the size of West Virginia. The region currently meets all federal clean air standards, and EPA in 2008 determined the proposed power plant would be one of the cleanest such plants in the nation.

Nevertheless, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) and environmental activist groups oppose the Navajo Nation’s proposal, claiming the plant does not conform to regional efforts encouraging solar, wind, and geothermal power production.

Tribal leaders expect the Desert Rock Energy Station to generate more than $50 million in revenue each year, nearly $3,000 per person per year for the 180,000 people living on the reservation. The reservation has an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent, and per-capita income is roughly $6,000 per year.

“As a tribe, we cannot turn down that kind of investment,” said Steven Begay, the top Navajo official overseeing the Desert Rock project, according to Greenwire on January 23. “The Navajo need to develop our own resources, and Desert Rock is going to help us do that. We know there’s a market for new power in the region, and there’s also a demonstrated need for the Nation to find new sources of income.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.