We can have electricity, jobs and clean air

  • Vernon Masayesva

    Georgia Masayesva photo
 

There are big problems with the Mohave power plant. From the Hopi mesas of my people, we notice it all the time. Until the late 1960s we could see the sacred San Francisco Peaks clearly from my home near old Oraibi on the Hopi mesas, 80 miles away as the crow flies. It is the shrine we look to because it is the home of ancient Katsina spirits, emissaries of life. Sometimes we felt we could touch the mountain near Flagstaff. Now it is often hard to see the sacred peaks because of air pollution.

We hear now that the Mohave generating station at Laughlin, Nev., will close down if its owners are forced to obey the Clean Air Act. This need not be the outcome.

By any measure, it is in Southern California Edison's interest to act as responsibly as the Navajo Generating Plant at Page, Ariz., and other coal-fired power plants and copper smelters in their efforts to help clean up the air. It is good public relations, and besides, they can afford it. No power plant to my knowledge has ever had to close down to meet environmental standards.

In its advertising, Edison informs citizens that it is looking "for ways to continuously improve our environmental performance."

What a great opportunity exists at the Mohave plant, 50 miles upwind from the Grand Canyon, to end antagonisms and bring stakeholders together to find common solutions and strategies.

For example, steps should be taken to burn coal more efficiently. And cleaner technology can be installed. It is not as if our people are asking for a new idea. The necessary technology already exists. There are many ways to solve this problem. But the owners of Mohave do not want to address it. They say smoke from their plant in Laughlin, Nev., is not a major cause of diminishing visibility.

What do they do instead? They react by threatening to close the plant, thereby causing the loss of jobs and income for Indian tribes and people who depend on Southern California Edison and Peabody Coal Corp., the sole supplier of coal for the plant.

This is not right. It borders on corporate irresponsibility for the owners to say that if they have to clean up, they will shut down, and no longer will there be income from Hopi and Navajo coal resources.

Mohave owners, like their Peabody Coal Corp. counterparts, play the game very well. Sometimes they put the Navajo and Hopi together and treat us like twins. Other times they play the divide-and-conquer game, manipulating us into fighting.

No one likes lawsuits. But, unfortunately, the suit just filed by the Grand Canyon Trust against the owners of Mohave is the only sure way to bring interested parties together for the first time (HCN, 3/2/98). I am hopeful that all the stakeholders will be able to sit at a table and throw some ideas around to achieve a fair solution.

The Mohave problem is solvable. The technology, the resources and the knowledge exist. This is the country, after all, that went to the moon. We have a common desire to clean the air and safeguard our environment. We all want to protect jobs. And for Hopi people particularly, there is a sense of urgency to stop the depletion of ancient underground water to slurry coal 270 miles from Black Mesa in northern Arizona to the Mohave generating plant. It is plain wrong to be using pristine water, tapped 3,000 feet underground, from beneath Hopi lands, to transport coal in desert country.

The major stumbling block appears to be money, but even this can be resolved once we understand the true cost of "scrubbing" the Mohave plant, and making the plant run cleaner and more efficiently. The cost should be considered a good corporate investment in a healthier environment and not simply a solution to a problem.

Let's come up with creative solutions that will be in the best interests of the companies, Edison, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Salt River Project, and the tribes - solutions that will restore the pristine air to the Southwest, and to the Grand Canyon.

We can have jobs, clean air, electric power and justice. There is nothing contradictory about these goals. n

The writer, former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, is program director of the Arizona Native Scholastic Enrichment Resource Program in collaboration with the University of Arizona at Tucson.

Note: a short news article, "A giant plume into the air," accompanies this opinion piece as a sidebar.


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