Guest Editorial: Ben Shelly gives false dichotomy between Jobs and Pollution Controls
By: Len Necefer Pittsburgh, PA
PhD Candidate, Carnegie Mellon University
Ben Shelly misrepresents NREL report giving a false dichotomy between Jobs and Pollution Controls:
The Navajo Nation, under the administration of Ben Shelly, faces significant challenges to the future of energy development on the Navajo Nation. With natural resource and energy production revenue representing nearly half of the Nation’s budget annually, any perceived threat to these operations is seen as a significant risk to the Navajo Nation.
Recent discussions regarding EPA mandated emission controls at the Navajo Generating Station, near Page, Arizona, have been seen as a potential threat to the future of coal on the Navajo nation. Harrison Tsosie, Attorney General of the Navajo Nation, stated at a recent House Subcommittee that:
“…because of the Nation’s substantial coal reserves, the [new emissions regulations] will have long reaching impacts on the Nation’s sovereignty, including the Nation’s ability to independently develop its natural resource economy and provide economic security for its tribal members.” And that “The [new emissions] rule was not tailored so that costs of compliance for plants on the Navajo Nation are achievable within a reasonable timeframe”
Ben Shelly and his administration have reflected this position as well. The opposition of the current administration is founded on the closure of the Mohave Generating Station in 2005 that was served by the Black Mesa Mine located on the Navajo Nation. This closure was not solely due to $1bn of mandated emissions control for one of the most polluting plants at that time. Water and energy are intricately intertwined in the west: issues with preserving the N-Aquifer and finding another water source for the coal pipeline that fed the plant finally pushed the plant over the edge into closure.
The Shelly Administration in their position presents a false dichotomy between jobs and required emission controls.
Emissions controls can have many undeniable costs to workers if implemented hastily or without significant study. Though it must be emphasized electricity is a fairly inelastic resource, meaning increases in prices will not directly translate into a collapse of demand. And unlike most polluting industries, power industries cannot move overseas to countries with less emission controls. The Navajo Nation is a source of cheap and reliable power for most of the west, likely this will continue to remain the case.
The development and implementation of these emissions control technologies will bring jobs in construction on the reservation. It is important to emphasize that the effect to the Navajo Nation is underrepresented if looked solely through the lens of Job creation- as is currently being portrayed
According to Michael Greenstone, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a recent study on emission controls in developing countries, the benefits of emissions controls far exceed the costs. These benefits are achieved through a reduction in infant mortality and hospitalizations from pollution. These are have been unaccounted costs on the reservation that need consideration. Unfortunately for most of politics, these benefits to society are not seen immediately, but rather accumulate in the long run. This may not be the most politically expedient option
Ben Shelly recently applauded a study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratories on behalf of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business stating that $20Bn was at stake if the plant were to close prematurely. This is a selective reading of the report, which ignores the key conclusions. This was meant to reinforce the claim that the EPA was not considering the economic interests of the Navajo Nation. This was intended to support the claim that the additional regulations could cause a premature closure of the NGS and the Kayenta Mine that supports it.
The NREL report being applauded by Ben Shelly states:
“The basic costs of installing [new emissions controls] at the NGS would likely be less than the basic costs of shutting it down and replacing it with power from unused capacity elsewhere in the west”
The emission controls will increase power rates throughout Arizona, “…would likely increase the retail rates of each utility partner by 0.2% to 0.6%…with [more expensive emissions controls, effects would be about triple (0.6% to 1.8%)” For a $100 utility bill this would mean a worst-scenario increase of $1.80.
The economic consequences will likely affect water users more heavily in southern Arizona who depend on the Central Arizona Project Canal [CAP]. The NGS currently supplies about 25% to pump water from the Colorado River to the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas a total of 336 miles, “The cost burden of additional retrofits would probably fall more heavily on CAP water users than it would on any of the five utilities that own shares in the Navajo GS. Replacing the plant would result in an even greater impact disparity”
CAP water users could see an increase of water prices from 5% to 16%. This may seem significant until it is put into perspective of the entire country. According to a recent survey by Circle of Blue, a leading organization on global water issues showed that the Phoenix metropolitan consumes disproportionally more water, at significantly lower rate than nearly all US metropolitan areas. The Navajo Nation does not need to subsidize bad behavior with cheap power.
Arizona has been built on the premise of cheap water but this does not mean that it will be around forever. Uncertainties from climate change in the southwest have and will continue to decrease water flow in the Colorado. The Navajo Nation must prepare for this reality The Shelly Administration does have the interest of the Nation at heart, though the interests of outside stakeholders color the selective readings of this report. This situation truly points towards development of a comprehensive energy policy for the Nation that allows for adaptations to these types of regulations. It must be made clear that the Navajo Nation should not ask for special exemption from the EPA to allow for compliance. Navajos near NGS deserve equal protection from pollution controls in this country and should not be pushed aside in the interest of profit.
*As a discretion, all guest editorials, letters to the editor are written by our readers and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of our readers, not the Navajo Post.*