'A perilous time to be reinvesting in coal'

May 16, 2013

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R ecent events related to the giant Navajo Generating Station hint at progress being made toward resolving its complex environmental and ownership issues.

In January, EPA proposed its regional haze rule for NGS, calling for retrofitting selective catalytic reduction to reduce NOx emissions, and extending the effective date to 2023. Earlier this month, discussions advanced on a framework for renewing the NGS leases.

But is this really "progress" for rate-payers, owners, tribes, employees, and the environment? Or is it or merely the continued slow plodding of business-as-usual?

SRP has estimated NGS retrofit costs alone might be over one billion dollars, more than the original cost of this 40-year-old coal-burning plant. And that doesn't include additional costs arising from recent and future EPA requirements for mercury, particulate matter, water discharge, ash handling, and carbon dioxide emissions.

From both a cost and environmental perspective, this is a perilous time to be reinvesting in coal. The economic logic of retrofitting many antiquated coal plants simply no longer works. Short-term decision making, without considering the longer-term picture, may just be throwing good money after bad.

Instead of patching up old coal plants, we can begin revamping our power systems to be competitive in the 21st century.

Such innovative, forward thinking was on display at the nearby San Juan Generating Station. That debate had long been stuck on which of two retrofit coal technologies should be installed on an aging and inefficient plant.

A "third alternative" was conceived and demonstrated, using coal unit closures, more natural gas use, and less costly NOx retrofits to create a true win-win outcome offering better environmental performance at lower cost. Working among all the stakeholders, the Settlement Agreement announced in February will not only save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars, but will also yield dramatic reductions in coal ash, water use, and for CO2, the biggest reduction in New Mexico's history.

For NGS, could such innovative thinking achieve similar benefits for stakeholders? Analyses to date mostly focused on coal retrofit technologies, or simply retiring NGS and drawing from other resources in the western power grid. But how does either approach help the tribes transition from coal to cleaner energy?

What's been missing from discussion is the role natural gas could play in generating cleaner power at or near NGS. Dramatic shifts in the natural gas markets have opened up compliance opportunities for utilities that just a few years ago would have appeared too expensive, volatile, and unreliable. And in a geologic stroke of good luck, the nearby Mancos Shale is showing exceptionally attractive characteristics, including the fact that much of this prime resource underlies Navajo Nation lands.

Natural gas use could avoid the need for costly pollution retrofit controls and lessen the cost risk of future environmental regulation, while still retaining an employment base in the area and utilizing the established transmission infrastructure.

Further, natural gas units can be paired neatly with expanded use of renewables, particularly solar power resources abundant around the NGS site. Unlike coal retrofitting or shutting down NGS, this creates genuine opportunities for a transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future. Why now, and not before?

Technologies, natural gas markets, and policy are all moving into alignment, creating a window of opportunity where one had not existed before. These cleaner-energy strategies offer a far more compelling value proposition than just a few years ago. It no longer has to be a choice of costs versus the environment; today we really can have both.

We are at a crossroads. Whether we choose to seize this opportunity for a cleaner energy future, or simply double down on the technologies of the past, is a Sputnik moment for NGS, its owners, and customers, both now and for future generations. There's time to do this right, and getting this right has never been more important.

Lynda M. Lovejoy and Daniel E. Klein
Albuquerque, N.M.

Actions of school board 'difficult to understand'

If there's one thing Indian parents understand, it's that not telling the truth or attempting to conceal the truth is a big no-no. In education, it's an especially big no-no, which makes the actions of the Window Rock Unified School District's superintendent and the school board so difficult to understand.

The superintendent and the school board took action to mortgage impact funds into school year 2022, then when it became clear that this action affected the district's cash flow they placed all of the blame regarding the negative cash flow on sequestration and the county treasurer error.

So far the superintendent, nor have any of the board members, stepped forward and admitted the real truth that this impact of negative cash flow and planning to cut three schools, including the popular Navajo Immersion School, is really self-inflicted and the result of bad budget management and basically being asleep at the wheels.

The school board, for its part, apparently did not understand how mortgaging impact funds into year 2022 would impact their cash flow. Had they done their diligent duty by asking the hard questions they could have put a stop to this nonsense and we would not be talking about closing three schools and putting hundreds of people out of a job and making it difficult for students to get a good education.

The student handbook lists that parents are the first teachers of children, and that cooperation, communication, and trust must exist between the school and community, and that all parents and community members should serve as responsible role models for children. And, the Governing Board of Education will work with district and the community in making education policy decisions.

And, the school district and the community will work together to provide a safe, orderly and wholesome school environment that nurtures growth and promotes learning. The school board has not asked for accountability requiring the superintendent to set the example at the highest level.

Will students caught not telling the truth be given the same punishment? Will an excuse or placing blame elsewhere other than taking full responsibility ensure they pass the class? The school board had an opportunity to illustrate that not telling the truth is unacceptable under any circumstances and instead, took a pass.

The children in our schools today are the future leaders of our community and our nation. Let's teach them to work hard, be honest and most importantly, give credit where credit is due. I will continue to draw pay and run your schools, just don't expect me to subject my children to your system, etc.

This is just one more example of the superintendent and the school board not admitting the truth and attempting to conceal the truth. It is time the superintendent be replaced and the school board resign or be recalled.

Wallace Hanley
Window Rock, Ariz.

Some have healed using peyote

As a certified roadman, Azee' Yee Nahalahi of the Azee' Bee Nahagha of Diné Nation, I would like to also respond to the "Mixing Together of Religion" article, which appeared in the April 25 issue of the Navajo Times.

I beg to differ with Mr. Scott and give long-standing credence and the legal right to use, possess, and administer the medicinal herb referred to as peyote. For those who may not know, the use of the medicinal herb is legally protected by the U.S. congressionally mandated Native American Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and its 1994 amendments.

This is not the first time the issue of the "entheogen peyote" button has surfaced in the media. Therefore, my only intent is to put things back into proper context. I am sure the current 7,000 ABNDN membership feel the same way.

Since its historical inception, there are numerous accounts of how the peyote came to be through western research conducted. However, from an indigenous standpoint, peyote came into existence only for one intended purpose. Its primary purpose and function is to heal – nothing more and nothing less.

In Diné society, the Diné traditional prescribed major and minor ceremonies also all serve the same purpose – to restore personal dignity, family, and sense of community well-being and integrity. Let's keep things in proper perspective. We should not confuse or create doubt in the mind-body existence of the resurgent of the younger generation.

Furthermore, according to indigenous elder historians, a giant peyote button was found among the Mayans in 375 A.D. This means the peyote plant was used in pre-Columbian times by the Coahuiltecan Native American Carandera. Eventually, the peyote spread to the Great Plains of the U.S., around the 1800s, and incorporated in 1918 in Oklahoma. Chief Quanah Parker, a half-breed Comanche Indian, was instrumental in the perpetuation of the medicinal herb.

It is important to point out that the peyote ceremonies have deep roots in Mexican Native culture. Thus, the Lipan Apaches learned from the Carrizo Coahuilteco Tribe of southern Texas.

Perhaps, this explains why the Diné people purchase peyote from Texas today. By the same token, it is unfortunate the peyote has become scarce in Texas. This is attributed, in part, to lack of moisture. This also means we should not marginalize, trivialize, and diminish the sacredness of our life ways.

On a personal note, I was first given peyote in 1947. My father must of have recited a special prayer. It has taken me this far in my life journey.

In 1969, the powerful emetic curing herb and other ceremonial traditional plant roots were administered to me to rid of the contamination I was exposed to during the Vietnam War – an instrumentality of war.

In this respect, it certainly qualifies me as a former patient and I can further attest to the healing powers of this medicinal herb. I can further attest that I have witnessed the dynamics and healing attributes after administering the medicinal herb to other patients in need. Eventually, patients have healed in many ways and many respects. These patients are all living a desired quality of life today.

Anthony Lee Sr.
Lukachukai, Ariz.

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