Naa'bik'iyáti' to hear report on NGS

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, May 16, 2013

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T he Navajo Nation Council's Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee will meet today, May 16, at 10 a.m. to hear a report on the Navajo Generating Station and Salt River Project response discussion.

On May 7, owners of the coal-fired power plant objected to changes made by the Council to the resolution and lease extension for NGS.

The report was listed on the committee's proposed agenda, which was posted Wednesday morning to the Council's website.

As of press time Wednesday, the Naa'bik'iyáti' Committee's Energy Task Force Subcommittee was scheduled to meet to discuss NGS.

Part of the energy task force's responsibilities are recommending to the committee and the Council a strategic plan to guide and direct the tribe regarding energy development and recommending policies relating to energy issues currently before the tribe.

NGS owners explained their reasons for rejecting the Council's actions in a May 7 letter to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize from Mike Hummel, associate general manager for Salt River Project.

NGS owners told tribal leaders that the amendments dealing with water rights and having the federal government sign on as a lessee are "unacceptable."

"We have a number of corrections to certain factual errors in the resolution, object to specific conditions in the resolution, and request reconsideration of changes to Amendment No. 1," Hummel wrote.

Amendment No. 1 is the lease extension that would be between the tribe and SRP, Arizona Public Service Co., Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Nevada Energy, and Tucson Electric Power Co. and requires consent by the Council, Shelly and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Enclosed with the letter were redline revisions made by NGS owners to the resolution and lease extension.

Salt River Project operates the 2,250-megawatt power plant near Page, Ariz. It serves electricity customers in Arizona, California and Nevada and supplies energy to pump water through the Central Arizona Project.

Hummel wrote that the factual errors in the resolution have been discussed with the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, so the Council can address those issues in any future legislative action.

Owners had issues including listing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as a party to the original 1969 lease, which expires in 2019, in the resolution.

Another issue owners had with the resolution is that it declares the United States interest in NGS is a direct conflict with its trust responsibility to the tribe.

Including this statement would "prevent" the Interior Secretary from approving the lease extension once the National Environmental Policy Act is completed, Hummel wrote.

"Therefore, inclusion of this statement as a condition creates a risk that the participants in NGS are unwilling to accept," he wrote.

Also at issue is that NGS owners are not allowed to interfere or oppose the tribe's claim to water from the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Owners also opposed SRP meeting annually with the tribe.

"SRP is willing to request such a meeting; however, because we cannot require the Navajo Nation to meet with us, we propose changing the provision to specify only that the NGS owners will request a meeting," Hummel wrote.

As far as the lease extension, owners had an issue with the Council removing the tribe's consent to the 323 Grants, which are payments made for right-of way and easement, and requiring the federal government to pay a portion of the signing bonus even if the Interior Secretary never approves the lease extension.

Another issue was the revisions made to the hiring of employees at NGS. The Council revised this section to give Navajos employment preference to the extent allowed by law, to provide Navajo preference in all training opportunities, and to ensure that Navajos are prepared to assume employment positions at all levels.

The revised language also stated that in certain circumstances the need for critical or specialized skills at NGS would require selecting the most qualified person whether or not they are Navajo. Owners were amenable to language stating that if federal law prohibits employment preference based on tribal affiliation, preference would be given to qualified Indians.

The changes to the legislation and to the lease extension were passed April 29 by the Council and signed April 30 by Shelly.

"If the Council insists on the proposed changes, it is unlikely we will reach a resolution," Hummel wrote.

He added that without a lease extension in place, it would impact the ongoing discussions for a fuel contract, owner involvement, and response to the best available retrofit technology ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.