Shelly's energy policy challenged

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

ALBUQUERQUE, July 7, 2011

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President Ben Shelly and his energy policy team said they held one of their six public meetings at the University of New Mexico Student Union movie theater last week to hear from students and urban Navajos.

According to Michelle A. Henry from the Division of Natural Resources, 59 people attended the three-hour meeting on June 30.

Mario Atencio, who identified himself as a student and a member of Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining the Environment), questioned how Attorney General Harrison Tsosie could claim that Diné Fundamental Law was part of Shelly's proposed energy policy.

"We're going to build power plants and be holy?" Atencio asked.

Atencio's was referring to Shelly's introductory remarks that included the restoration of the controversial 1,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant Desert Rock.

Shelly, in a separate interview with the Navajo Times, said that the $32.6 billion Desert Rock, which was slated provided electricity for 1.5 million customers in southern Arizona, Las Vegas and California, was never removed as a tribal energy project.

Desert Rock was former President Joe Shirley Jr.'s crowning energy project and it also had federal support, including an air permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the George W. Bush administration.

But the state of New Mexico legally questioned the U.S. EPA's decision to issue an air permit for Desert Rock.

In the end, the air permit was rescinded and with it went $3.2 million in tax-free industrial revenue bonds.

Shelly said that he plans to transform Desert Rock into a "coal liquefaction" plant that changes coal into diesel fuel, which is "clean coal" technology.

He said a demonstration project to change coal into diesel fuel would be set up at the Navajo Nation Fair in September.

But Atencio said coal was the reason for global warming and climate change.

According to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, "coal use, primarily for the generation of electricity, now accounts for roughly 20 percent of global GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions."

Shelly said vehicle emissions from cars and trucks and people burning trash also contribute to global climate change.

Norman Ration, director of the National Indian Youth Council in Albuquerque, said he wanted to know how Shelly and his administration would develop a workforce of Navajos to fill the jobs Shelly and his energy team envision would be created.

Ration said he was also concerned about whether former stakeholders were included, such as those who helped develop the 1980 Navajo Nation Energy Policy, 2005 Diné Natural Resources Protection Act and former President Peterson Zah, who proposed an energy policy in 1992 that included a ban on uranium.

In a written statement, NIYC President Cecelia Belone noted that Shelly's draft energy policy failed to mention Navajo common law, the Fundamental Laws of the Diné or Diné Natural Law, which were adopted by the Council in 2002, as well as relevant provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Belone strongly recommended additional public meetings to allow more public participation.

Al Henderson, a former Division of Economic Development director with a master's degree in economics who is teaching at UNM, criticized the limited time allowed for individuals to comment, which was three minutes.

Henderson, who submitted a 15-page written statement from himself and two associates, recommended changing the name of the energy policy to "Mother Earth, Father Sky Policy" or "Nohoosdzaan doo Yadiihil Bi Bee Haz'aanii Policy."

He also recommended that section 403, Lease Rent, Royalty rates and Bonuses, be changed.

In 1980, the tribe incorporated the cost benefit/opportunity concept into its 1980 energy policy and other tribes followed their lead, he recalled.

The Native Health Initiative of Albuquerque made five key recommendations.

Number one was that a formal health impact assessment be a "standard" for all proposed energy projects.

That was followed with the recommendation to make "renewable energy sources" on the reservation a "precedence in the plans for development of new revenue sources, creation of jobs, and the overall goal to switch both fuel production and consumption to renewable sources."

Number three was that "uranium mining should have no place in the energy plans of the Navajo Nation. It is unacceptable from a health, environmental and spiritual vantage point to keep the door open on uranium mining," which is in section 9.

Shelly said that his draft energy policy does not include the ban on uranium exploration, mining and processing because he wants to keep an "open door" on uranium mining.

The initiative's other two recommendations concerned pollution and spirituality.

"We request that the final draft of the energy policy be consistent with health equity, allowing no greater pollution in the Navajo Nation that would be accepted in the wealthiest sections of Farmington, in the heart of Sedona, or in downtown Scottsdale," the initiative stated.

"We ask that attention and reverence be given to the reality that for the Diné people, clean air, water and land are not commodities to be bargained with, but sacred elements of life to be protected at all costs."

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