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As cleanup dispute looms, Peabody-linked group pushes Navajo Nation to buy west’s largest coal plant

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In September 2018, two potential consumers introduced they have been dropping out of negotiations to buy the Navajo Producing Station (NGS), the American West’s largest coal-fired energy plant.

Avenue Capital Group and Center River Energy had sought to maintain the ageing coal plant in enterprise, however “stated they might not get anybody to commit to purchasing energy from the plant, delaying the beginning of an environmental evaluation,” the Related Press reported. The plant, situated in northern Arizona close to the Utah border, is at present scheduled to close down in December, after its present house owners concluded in 2017 that its energy was too pricey to be aggressive.

The 2 companies had progressed additional in talks with the coal energy plant’s house owners than any of the 15 others recognized as potential consumers by a consulting agency employed by Peabody Power, which for many years has mined the coal burned on the plant.

A assume tank that’s been backed by Peabody Power is pushing the sale of the ailing plant and coal mine – and is now discovering an viewers within the Navajo Nation with the assistance of a Heartland Institute coverage advisor.

Supporters of the deal argue it might forestall layoffs for an additional 5 to 10 years in a area the place jobs are scarce. Even throughout many years of mining for coal and uranium and drilling for oil and fuel, unemployment within the area has hovered round 50 %.

Native opponents warn that if the Navajo Nation buys the mine, it should additionally purchase the cleanup prices. They’ve proposed creating jobs by constructing a renewable power energy system within the space as an alternative, utilizing the coal plant’s present transmission strains to move that electrical energy to locations like Los Angeles and Pheonix.

“The Navajo Producing Station and the coal mines on Black Mesa have been constructed on a basis of theft and colonialism. However closing them down won’t assist until it’s finished in a simply approach, one which heals previous wounds moderately than opening new ones.” https://t.co/KbQjyUJmWa

— Sammy Roth (@Sammy_Roth) February 19, 2019

Coal and Water

Peabody, which emerged from chapter in 2017, owns the Kayenta coal mine on Navajo Nation land. Kayenta mine’s solely buyer is the Navajo Producing Station and its three 750-megawatt turbines. Because the 1960s, Peabody has mined coal from Kayenta and different mines on Black Mesa, a mountainous area of Hopi and Navajo land within the northeastern nook of Arizona.

It’s the coal seams that make Black Mesa black – and it’s the coal mines that locals say dried up the groundwater that hundreds of individuals dwelling within the area depend on. Over eight,000 houses on Navajo lands right here lack entry to consuming water, in accordance with Stanford’s Water within the West.

Kayenta coal mineThe Kayenta Mine, a floor coal mine within the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Credit score: Doc Searls, CC BY 2.zero

The Kayenta coal mine, a 44,000-acre strip mine related to the Navajo Producing Station by rail, makes use of 1.three billion gallons of water a yr. Locals report that the coal mine has drained the arid area’s underground water provide, drying up the springs, seeps and water wells fed by the N-aquifer underneath Black Mesa which have traditionally made this nook of Arizona liveable.

“We don’t have any water, I don’t have any water – just because it’s been devoted all to the Peabody mine,” stated Percy Deal, a retiree and former Navajo Council supervisor who has lived his whole life on Black Mesa simply south of the Kayenta mine, on land the place his household has lived for generations.

Locals should now drive vital distances to group springs to refill 50-gallon drums of water to make use of of their houses, for his or her livestock, and infrequently for agricultural use.

“I haul water identical to hundreds of individuals, we’ve to haul water,” Deal stated, estimating that he needed to make the drive, roughly 20 miles every approach, about each different week.

When the coal mine and energy plant shut down for good, decommissioning and cleanup are slated to start – and already there are indicators that disputes over who should pay these prices are on the horizon.

Nicole Horseherder testifiesNicole Horseherder, government director of Tó Nizhóní Ání, testified earlier than Congress concerning the Navajo Producing Station final yr.

On February 13 a authorized discover was despatched to Peabody Western Coal Co. by Tó Nizhóní Ání (a Navajo group group advocating for water on Black Mesa), Black Mesa Water Coalition, and the Sierra Membership, asserting that a Peabody estimate for “last reclamation prices” exhibits $187.9 million in anticipated bills. The discover alleges that in April 2017, Peabody despatched a discover to Navajo Producing Station’s house owners informing them that Peabody holds them responsible for 71.four % of the mine’s reclamation prices.

The February 13 discover claims Peabody broke the regulation by failing to inform federal mining regulators that the mine was closing and that it sought to shift cleanup legal responsibility onto the shoulders of others throughout a subsequent allow renewal.

“Peabody is making an attempt to sidestep its reclamation duties by pretending the Navajo Producing Station isn’t on monitor to shut in 2019, however it’s, and that’s been the case for 2 years,” Jihan Gearon, government director of Black Mesa Water Coalition, stated in a assertion.

Consumers again out

As coal has struggled to compete towards cheaper energy from different sources (together with pure fuel, a fossil gasoline whose costs have plunged amid the shale fuel rush), coal energy crops throughout the U.S. have been shuttered. Over 260 coal crops have closed since 2010, and the carbon-intensive fossil gasoline’s share of the nation’s energy market has plunged from greater than half to lower than a 3rd up to now 15 years.

Competitors from different fuels – not solely from pure fuel, which brings local weather change considerations probably much more extreme than coal, but in addition from renewable power – has grow to be fierce.

“Coal is the costliest gasoline for electrical energy era available on the market, with electrical energy from the [Four Corners Generating Station, another coal plant on Navajo land] costing round $79 per MWH [megawatt-hour] as in comparison with $18 per MWH for wind energy (with storage) and $35 per MWH for utility scale solar energy with storage,” Tom Ribe, government director of Caldera Motion, wrote in a January 22 column revealed by The New Mexico Political Report. “Pure fuel energy crops generate energy at round $63 per MWH.”

Actually, the Central Arizona Challenge, an area water utility, struck a deal to exchange a number of the energy from the Navajo Producing Station with photo voltaic era, an settlement that would offer electrical energy at half the price of energy from the coal plant, GreenTechMedia reported in June.

It’s on this setting that in September, Avenue Capital and Center River Energy walked away from a deal that the coal plant’s supporters had hoped may prolong its life (DeSmog beforehand coated protests in New York towards that deal). A spokesperson for the consumers defined to the Navajo Occasions that that they had been unable to safe commitments from clients to purchase sufficient energy “to allow a workable working paradigm.”

Yesterday kind of summed up life on the coal beat.

First, did a narrative on energy corporations swapping coal for renewables within the Heartland https://t.co/fUDsAtEzXt

Then received information the one purchaser for Navajo Producing Station was pulling its bid https://t.co/jLn10A3yos

— Ben Storrow (@bstorrow) September 21, 2018

Making the transition

One other potential purchaser might now be ready within the wings. In January, the Navajo Occasions reported that the Navajo Transitional Power Firm (NTEC) had authorised a measure to proceed negotiations to purchase up the plant and mine on behalf of the Navajo Nation. NTEC, which describes itself as “an entirely owned restricted legal responsibility firm of the Navajo Nation,” beforehand bought the Navajo Mine supplying coal to the 4 Corners Energy Plant.

Almost 500 individuals – 90 % of whom are Navajo – work full time on the Navajo Producing Station, and a whole lot extra work within the Kayenta coal mine. The Hopi and Navajo tribal governments additionally usher in roughly $50 million a yr in revenues from the plant.

“Closing the [Navajo Generating Station] in 2019 would have a devastating influence on our nation by instantly eliminating hundreds of jobs and dramatically decreasing our income,” Russell Begaye, then-president of the Navajo Nation, wrote in a 2017 The Hill op-ed calling on the Trump administration to satisfy Trump’s pledge to “convey again coal.”

Navajo Generating StationThe Navajo Producing Station. Credit score: Doc Searls, CC BY 2.zero

With these efforts failing, NTEC is wanting into buying the facility station and the Kayenta mine. “We consider there’s a clear and useful path ahead to accumulate and function each [the Navajo Generating Station] and Kayenta Mine as a vertically-integrated entity,” NTEC CEO Clark Moseley stated in a press release reported later that month.

Different Navajo Nation members are essential of the deal, arguing that a purchase order can be financially dangerous for the Navajo Nation since different potential consumers concluded the plant couldn’t be profitably run.

They add that even when the plant does shut, some jobs will stay – and a few new ones will open up.

Roughly a 3rd of the coal plant’s staff signed on to work at one other regional energy plant, others would stay to decommission the plant and begin cleanup, and nonetheless extra can get jobs constructing new photo voltaic amenities that might use the Navajo Producing Station’s transmission strains.

“They’re scaring the individuals saying that all the jobs will probably be misplaced,” stated Deal. “There’s going to be a interval of 5 to 6 years for decommissioning, cleanup, and restoration – and there’s going to be jobs there.”

“Once they stated there’s going to be 700 jobs misplaced,” he stated, “that simply merely isn’t true.”

Peabody-linked Texas Public Coverage Basis behind video touting jobs

NTEC is run by three former coal firm executives – all hailing from corporations which have troubled histories, critics say. NTEC’s CEO beforehand led a coal export undertaking in Oregon which was defeated following native opposition, its CFO was a vice chairman at Alpha Pure Assets, which filed for chapter in 2015, and its COO left the now-bankrupt Westmoreland Coal for NTEC in 2016.

A brand new web site, www.savenativeamericanfamilies.com, was first created in September 2018.

Screen shot of Texas Public Policy's video about the Navajo Generating Station on the website Save Native American FamiliesThe Peabody-linked Texas Public Coverage Basis’s video concerning the Navajo Producing Station featured on the web site Save Native American Households.

Gerges Scott, the one consultant named on the Save Native American Households (SNAF) web site, works for a Washington, D.C.-based public relations agency referred to as Agenda International. “At Agenda International, Gerges Scott leads the power unit that helps business shoppers overcome challenges associated to regulatory, authorities, media, and group help,” his agency bio says. “Gerges has represented an array of organizations – from business coalitions to actively producing power corporations.”

An undated curriculum vitae for Scott additionally lists the “Navajo Nation,” which wholly owns NTEC, as considered one of his shoppers. Scott serves as a “Coverage Advisor” for the fossil fuel-funded assume tank the Heartland Institute, in response to the institute’s “Who Are We” net web page.

The SNAF website includes a video praising the Navajo Producing Station that was revealed on YouTube in August 2018 by the Texas Public Coverage Basis, a part of its Life:Powered challenge. “Excessive environmentalist insurance policies will remove jobs, destroy households, and spike electrical payments within the Navajo Nation and throughout America,” a slide on the finish of the video says. It suggests jobs on the coal plant might proceed one other decade if it stayed open.

So why is a Texas-based group making a video concerning the Navajo Producing Station?

It’s value noting that whereas the Texas Public Coverage Basis‘s mission is explicitly centered on Texas (and Texas doesn’t purchase energy from the Navajo Producing Station), the inspiration does have direct monetary ties to Peabody Power, which owns the Kayenta mine.

The Texas Public Coverage Basis is listed as a creditor in Peabody’s Chapter 11 chapter paperwork from 2016 revealed by the watchdog group Middle for Media and Democracy.

“Though the paperwork filed to date don’t present the size or exact dates of funding – they solely listing present collectors – they exhibit for the primary time that Peabody Power has monetary ties to a really giant proportion of the community of teams selling disinformation round local weather change,” the middle reported on the time, particularly noting that the Texas Public Coverage Basis had “direct monetary ties to Peabody.”

Peabody advised buyers that it was planning for an October shutdown of the mine, E&E reported earlier this month, however an organization spokesperson added that Peabody “continues to help” a transition that might maintain the Navajo Producing Station and the Kayenta mine open.

And Peabody, locals say, has an enormous incentive to help a deal.

“They’ve every little thing to realize if they will cross on their legal responsibility for this dying plant, the dying mine,” Nicole Horseherder, the chief director of the Navajo group Tó Nizhóní Ání, who additionally lives close to the mine, informed DeSmog.

Nicole Horseherder asks robust questions on Navajo Producing Station and the impacts of a buyout proposal from Center River Energy and continued hurt to Navajo individuals. Extra questions than solutions. pic.twitter.com/qQH2ArAAJA

— Sandy Bahr (@SLBahr) August 14, 2018

If the Navajo Nation have been to purchase the plant and mine, Peabody might shift legal responsibility for the shutdown onto the shoulders of the Nation. Whereas supporters of a deal level in the direction of an escrow fund they are saying has stored “tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars” established for cleanup prices, critics say that Peabody’s personal numbers present prices might run far larger than that.

“There’s not going to be a correct reclamation program, there’s not going to be a correct cleanup program, that’s what we’re fearful about,” Deal stated.

As an alternative, each stated they supported requiring Peabody to wash up after itself and creating new jobs by investing in solar energy on Navajo lands.

“All the items are there to truly put renewable power on these transmission strains,” Horseherder advised DeSmog. “We simply want to return to phrases that [the Navajo Generating Station] has received to shut first.”

Sharon Kelly is an lawyer and freelance author based mostly in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Occasions, The Nation, Nationwide Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and quite a lot of different publications. Previous to starting freelance writing, she labored as a regulation clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.

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