The Navajo Nation has opened its doors to a new power plant — and waived its sovereign right to protect itself from future disputes over the project. In mid-May, the Navajo Tribal Council voted 66 to 7, granting a 50-year lease to Houston-based Sithe Global Power to build the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant near Farmington, N.M. (HCN, 9/5/05: Pollution for jobs: a fair trade?). Although the legislation — endorsed by Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. — approves a "limited waiver of sovereign immunity," the actual agreement between the energy company and the tribe reads that the tribe "hereby expressly and unequivocally waives sovereign immunity from suit to any dispute under the lease or sublease."
The federal government’s public-lands-for-schools idea is off the table for now (HCN, 3/6/06: Public acres for sale). The plan, which received enthusiastic support from U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, would have sold off about 300,000 acres of national forests and BLM lands in order to fund schools and counties. According to Rey, the sale would have netted $800 million over the next seven years. But in May, the House Appropriations Committee decided not to bring the proposal to a vote before the full House of Representatives.
The Environmental Protection Agency is ready and willing to defend the homeland. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has announced a new position at the agency: associate administrator for Homeland Security. According to a May 1 memo from Johnson, the position is warranted "at a time when we face continued threats to homeland security as well as issues related to possible pandemic flu." Meanwhile, EPA employees in the "Great American West Eco-Region" have been instructed to expedite energy projects in the region to ensure the agency will "accelerate environmental protection and maintain economic competitiveness." One priority will be to reduce the time staff spend reviewing environmental documents by a yet-to-be-determined amount.