Does coal have a future?  The Navajo Nation gambles that it does - Susan Montoya Bryan, AP - Tuesday 10/17

Does coal have a future? The Navajo Nation gambles that it does
Susan Montoya Bryan, AP
Tuesday 10/17

What if you had to choose whether to live for another day, or live for a lot more days?

The decision sounds easy; who wouldn’t go for a long life over just another day.

The decision gets harder when you realize you can’t live long, unless you add a day to a day to a day.  

But you also don’t want today to eat up tomorrow.

These aren’t abstract questions for the 340,000 people of the Navajo Nation, living on the largest Native American reservation, stretching across considerable parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

The Nation has, for years, found jobs working in the coal industry, strip mining in NW NM, and running coal-powered energy plants in Arizona and New Mexico.  In 2013, the Nation invested $85 million to buy up the Navajo coal mine from BHP Billiton, one of the biggest firms in a swiftly shrinking industry.

Over the 4 years since they bought out Billiton, the Navajo have seen 3 local power plants, under pressure from the Federal Government, plan to radically cut back on their use of coal.  As our guest today, Albuquerque-based Associated Press correspondent Susan Montoya Bryan reported recently, “The Navajo Generating Station in northwestern Arizona is scheduled to close in 2019 but the Navajo Nation is pushing to keep it open longer.

The San Juan Generating Station near Farmington, New Mexico, will be closing two of its stacks by the end of the year, and Four Corners has closed three of its units.”

If the Navajo power plant and mine can’t stay open, the Navajo Nation argues, it will add misery to an already under-employed area, and because of the mine purchase, leave the Nation potentially bankrupt.

Don’t close the plant and the mine, the Native Americans plead, let us live another day.

But environmentalists, who are pushing to have the plant and mine shut, say the Navajo plant is a big carbon emitter and the Four Corners and San Juan plants together emit more pollution than any other source in North America.   Together, the 3 coal-fired plants stand accused of degrading air and water resources throughout the San Juan Basin, which includes parts of 4 states: Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

Over the long run, health experts contend, degraded air and water will reduce the collective number of days of life for Native Americans and everyone else in the region.

Live for today, or for tomorrow?  Not such an easy choice.


READING ROOM Montoya Bryan is an Albuquerque-based correspondent for the  Associated Press AP.  She oversees breaking news and enterprise reporting across New Mexico. Bryan has been a reporter in the AP’s New Mexico bureau since 1999, working as a night supervisor, and all-formats. She has covered breaking news and shot video and photos for several major stories, including wildfires, the drought, energy development and elections.

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