Indian Eco-battles


Today the Arizona Republic wraps up an excellent three-part series on coal, water and green jobs conflicts on Indian lands in northern Arizona.

Sunday's story focuses on the Navajo Generating Station near Page, responsible for pollution haze over the Grand Canyon and ranked as the nation's third-largest emitter of nitrogen oxides by the EPA, who now wants the plant to clean up its act:

In the two months since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules that would require costly new air-scrubbing equipment at the plant, the debate has escalated into a war of increasingly dire predictions: Tribal economies could collapse. The plant itself could close. The price of water sold to Phoenix and Tucson could quadruple.

The coal-fired power plant and the mine where it gets its coal -- which lies on the Hopi and Navajo reservations -- provide hundreds of jobs to the tribal communities. The plant is also the powerhouse behind the Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal, providing the electricity to move water from the Colorado River down to the thirsty southern metropolises of Phoenix and Tucson. The EPA's proposed rules would result in costly changes to the plant, costs which would likely be passed on to power customers.

Monday's story took a closer look at Joe Shirley Jr., president of the Navajo Nation, and his battle with environmentalists and tribal concerns, something HCN editor Jonathan Thompson recently discussed. Shirley, who denies the impacts of climate change, says he's fighting for the interests of the Navajo people:

"I'm working on independence, period," he said. "If it takes green jobs to get us back to standing on our own two feet, I'm for green jobs. If it takes Desert Rock or Navajo Generating Station...I'm for Desert Rock and Navajo Generating Station."

Today's story reports on a similar dilemma on the Hopi reservation, where jobs in the coal mines and power plant clash with environmental conservation interests--leading to conflicts among tribal government members. Some believe coal is a resource that should be exploited by the tribe to boost the economy, while others see the industry threatening the tribe's ecological heritage.

All three stories present different angles of the same larger story: in the debate between economy and ecology, who wins?