By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative
The location for last night’s public hearing on the Navajo Nation’s proposed energy policy was fitting for political theatrics – held at the UNM Student Union Building’s theater, the stage was set for Navajo Nation officials to make their case for the energy policy as currently drafted.
The document at the center of discussion was the draft of the Navajo Nation Energy Policy, completed June 20th, 2011 (see copy of draft here). The UNM meeting was the last of the public hearings on the policy, meetings meant to gather public input on the draft.
The Attorney General for the Navajo Nation, Harrison Tsosie, reminded the audience that this document was not a law, regulation or statute. “Instead, this policy is to serve as a vision statement for Navajo leaders and for the outside world, to then guide future decisions and laws and to ensure that in the future the Federal Government is not deciding the direction of our Dine’ people.”
There have been four prior attempts to develop such an energy policy by the Navajo Nation, with the only document that made it past draft stage being the 1980 policy. The current administration, under President Ben Shelly has made energy policy a priority.
The document supports development of renewable energy, with Navajo Nation officials admitting that in the past years there has been no clear direction, and therefore, no significant strides in this realm.
Coal and uranium appear to be the biggest points of contention in the draft policy, judging from the audience members who spoke during the public response section of the hearing.
In terms of coal, the current draft supports a coal-driven energy future for the Navajo Nation, stating, “The Nation will plan for a future that includes coal as a key component of the Nation’s energy mix…[and] will seek to shape federal fossil fuel regulation.” (Section 7)
Mario Atencio of Dine’ CARE (Coalition Against Ruining our Environment) stated that coal has no place in the energy future of the Navajo Nation, adding that he was concerned that the Navajo Green Energy Commission was not included in the drafting of the policy.
Juan Reynosa of the Sierra Club, following Mario to the microphone, seconded the opinion. “This is our opportunity to transition away from coal, switching to renewable resources. Juan talked about his work to push for tighter regulations on the Four Corners Power Plant, pointing out the un-tapped potential that wind and solar energy have in this region.
Nuclear energy and uranium is also addressed in the document with a recognition of the current ban on uranium mining that the Navajo Nation has adopted. “The Navajo Nation, nonetheless will continue to monitor uranium mining technologies and techniques…to assess the safety, viability, and potential of these activities for the future.” (Section 9).
Norman Patrick Brown of the Dine’ Bidziil (The People’s Strength) stated simply, “I don’t trust this policy. Our past shows us that energy infrastructure has been devastating to our land, our health and our way of life.” He said that from a traditional perspective, talking to Medicine Men, “I have yet to meet one person who supports any extraction from our Mother Earth of these materials.”
Additionally, there was obvious concern about those who spoke from the audience about the transparency of the process to create the draft, and at this point, the process of allowing public input to affect the final version of the document. A writer from the Navajo Times asked a pointed question to this later point – “How do you plan to share the public’s thoughts from these meetings that have been held?” Translating the answer from politico speak, it appears that the comments and written testimony will be compiled and made available on the Navajo Nation website. I could not find the policy or comments on the Navajo Nation website at the time of this article.
Public comments on the policy are welcome through July 31st, and should be sent in writing to Michelle — email@example.com.