New energy policy features 'clean coal' production

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 24, 2013

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D espite Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon's efforts to waylay the Navajo Nation Energy Policy of 2013 until he could propose some amendments, it passed the Council floor Tuesday morning by a vote of 13-6 in favor.

The new policy commits to "clean coal" production and sets some guidelines for exploration and development of resources on the Navajo Nation.

It replaces the previous energy policy, passed in 1980.

The decision to pass the energy policy wasn't easy for Council.

Last week, during a special session the Navajo Nation's legislative body attempted to vote on the matter, but couldn't because some members of Council, including Witherspoon, walked out on the vote resulting in the loss of a quorum.

The loss of a quorum during the Oct. 16 special session then placed the energy policy under old business of the Council's fall session agenda.

The Council passed the fall session agenda with no amendments Monday by a vote of 17-0.

During the second day of the session Tuesday, Witherspoon (Black Mesa/Forest Lake/Hard Rock/Pinon/ Whippoorwill) attempted to suspend the floor rules to allow for more amendments on the energy policy to occur.

His motion led to various points of order by Council members because Speaker Johnny Naize, a co-sponsor of the bill, had determined the energy policy was the first order of business.

Council delegates Alton Joe Shepherd (Cornfields/Ganado/Jeddito/Kin Dah Lichíí/Steamboat) and Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/ Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) disagreed with Naize, arguing, according to Council floor rules, that the body could bypass old business to address legislation requiring two-thirds votes.

"I don't see anything in Title 2 superseding," Shepherd said.

Tsosie added that items listed under old business "can be on there forever" and that floor rules specifically state how to proceed.

"Otherwise, we're not abiding our floor rules," he said.

The arguments by Tsosie and Shepherd confused Council delegates LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/ San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland) and Danny Simpson (Becenti/Lake Valley/ Nahodishgish/Standing Rock/Whiterock/Huerfano/Nageezi/Crownpoint).

According to Bates, who also cited floor rules, the Council had already adopted the agenda and "at that time should have amended the agenda."

To change the agenda requires a two-thirds vote, he said.

"I don't know if the rules have changed," Simpson quipped. "Under the rules, you're only recognized one time."

Simpson was referring to how Witherspoon was recognized more than once by Naize in his attempt to suspend the floor rules.

Naize then said there was no second motion on the bill, with Shepherd saying a second reading of the energy policy had already occurred and that the Council was ready to vote on the measure.

A point of order issued by Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta), asking Naize to put his foot down, resulted in the Council voting on the energy policy.

"Let's get to work, let's vote," Benally said. "Move on."

As a result, Naize called for a vote on the main motion, which Council passed with 13 votes and 6 opposing votes.

It also has three amendments attached to it.

The energy policy essentially would rescind the 1980 Navajo Nation Energy Policy and update it with the newer policy.

Specifically, the energy policy calls for clean coal technology and any of its advancements and sets policy for exploration, development, sustainable management and use of energy resources.

The amendments to the bill include removing a section of the legislation that expresses disappointment with current federal polices regarding the use of coal and another amendment to remove language stating that the Navajo Nation would adapt to the future federal regulatory environment.

President Ben Shelly applauded the news of the energy policy's passage at the Council.

In a Tuesday press release issued by spokesman Erny Zah, Shelly expressed thanks to the Council for passing the policy that had been crafted three years into his administration.

"This policy was created after many town hall meetings that were held throughout the Navajo Nation," the president states.

Considering that the tribe is on the path of becoming a coal owner through its wholly formed Navajo Transitional Energy Company to acquire Navajo Mine from BHP New Mexico Coal, Shelly said the energy policy only paves the way for the future.

"We have the opportunity to purchase a coal mine and attain partial ownership of a power plant, but yet, we must keep a strong grasp on renewable energy sources as well," he said adding that the energy policy would also help the tribe diversify its energy portfolio.

Once Naize certifies the legislation, the legislation will move to Shelly's desk.

From there, the president would have 10 calendar days to review the legislation, before signing it into law.

On Tuesday, the Council also passed legislation amending Titles 2 and 21 of the Navajo Nation Code to allow for the Navajo Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to implement and operate a 9-1-1 response system within the Navajo Nation.

"We need this legislation to lay the foundation to build a sustainable 9-1-1 system," said Walter Phelps (Cameron/Coalmine Canyon/Leupp/Tolani Lake/Tsidi Toii), sponsor of the legislation.

He added that in the absence of an emergency response system, lives are being lost.

"Emergency response is a major challenge for our isolated Navajo communities," he said.

During the discussion of the bill, Tsosie raised concern over whether the Nation would waive its sovereignty to obtain funding from the federal and state governments for such an emergency response system.

In response to his question, Brian Tagaban, acting executive director for the telecommunications regulatory commission, said the legislation wouldn't require the tribe to waive its sovereignty.

He did say, however, that the tribe would have to comply with the guidelines of each funding sources.

What's more, Tagaban said the bill would allow the tribe to exercise its sovereignty by authorizing the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to design and plan the 9-1-1 system guidelines and regulations.

"Developing this system is a lengthy process, and unfortunately I don't see any other agency or department taking on this authority," Tagaban said.

"We will now be in the position where the Navajo Nation can make a 9-1-1 system a reality by designating jurisdiction, developing a service plan, and obtaining eligibility for funding."

Council delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchroc/Iyanbito/ Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) called the legislation an important "first step" in making the Navajo Nation a safer place.

"This legislation is the first step to creating a safer Navajo Nation.

The next step will be to address the need for more Navajo Nation police officers," Yazzie said.

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