California PUC hears Navajo and Hopi voices 

25 October 2002 7:34 AM

Tuba City — Two messages were hammered home to the California Public Utilities Commission at the hearing held in Tuba City on Oct. 11 — not only in English, but also in Hopi and Navajo.

First, both tribes rely economically on Peabody Coal mines, and to close the Mohave Generating Station is an unacceptable action.  But at the same time, it was clear that the use of N-aquifer water for the slurrying of coal to that power plant could no longer be tolerated.

The Chapter House was packed – more than 400 people filled the aisles, the floor and seeped out into the yard from two different exits to listen to moving testimony. PUC President Loretta Lynch, in whose hands the fate of the Mohave Generating Station lies, was there to hear what was said.

Southern California Edison (SCE), owning 56 percent of the plant, filed an application on May 17, asking that the plant be closed. The Navajo and Hopi tribes and Peabody Energy formally protested the action. According to SCE, $58 million must be spent before December to begin compliance with a consent decree requiring air pollution control devices — devices that will ultimately cost $1.1 billion SCE says. But the company’s attorney, Jeff Koch, placed that cost at about $400 million. Other expenditures will add to the expense, including equipment needed to upgrade the plant and to repair the slurry pipeline.

President Kelsey A. Begaye welcomed Lynch, Judge Brown and other officials to the Navajo Nation. “Many of you have traveled here from your comfortable homes and offices in California where you enjoy the climate-controlled, well-lit prosperity made possible by available and affordable electricity. We know that the commission’ s first priority is the well-being of the rate-payers in your state, just as mine is to the well-being of the Navajo people. The Navajo Nation has contributed a great deal to California in the past, and we will do so in the future. We have benefited from this arrangement, but as you have heard today, it has been a mixed blessing.”

Pointing out that while Navajo coal generates about 20 percent of southern California’s energy, it is at the cost of 30,000 tons of coal a day at far less than market value. Further, Begaye pointed out that about 18,000 homes and structures on the reservation have no access to electricity. And although the mine provides up to 350 Navajo jobs are provided, 48 percent of all Navajos are unemployed.

“Edison has been doing some finger-pointing at the Navajo Nation as being uncooperative and obstructionist,” Begaye said. “They talk about our refusal to agree to their proposals for resolving water and coal supply issues. And they whine about how our lawsuit poses a threat to the future of the power plant.” He summarized the companies’ view on the matter. “The companies would have you believe that we are unreasonable; or we don’t understand what the plant needs to stay open; or maybe we are just being ungrateful. I think you need to understand why Edison keeps saying that we are the problem rather than the solution, and why they are using this proceeding as a lever to try to take advantage of the tribes once again.” In summary, Begaye described three goals identified by the Navajo Nation.

“One, to continue to seek fair compensation for past unlawful acts perpetrated by Edison and Peabody that damages us; two, to negotiate responsibly for compensation and on other issues relating to coal and water and right-of-ways in the future; and three, to make a commitment that we will work diligently and in good faith to ensure that the Mohave plant stays in business into the future.”

Chairman Wayne Taylor, Jr., spoke just as strongly on behalf of the Hopi Tribe. “Two fundamental issues of the Hopi Tribe and its people are implicated in these proceedings. Our cultural survival is threatened insofar as our groundwater resources continue to be relied on as a transportation medium for the Mohave power plant’s fuel supply. Secondly, our economic survival is at stake under any scenario that allows for a shutdown of Mohave or its conversion to an alternative fuel supply,” Taylor said.

But, he insisted, it remained the position of the Hopi Tribal government that reliance on N-aquifer groundwater for the purpose of coal slurry must end. “It is not our policy that the Mohave power plant be shut down in the face of readily-available, economically-feasible and environmentally sound alternatives to continued groundwater pumping.

“The Hopi Tribe cannot consent to provide additional coal unless the N-aquifer problem is resolved,” Taylor said, asking the PUC to wait until early or mid-2003 before making a decision to close the power plant, giving time for involved parties to identify an alternative water source.

Eljean Joshevema, Vice Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, spoke of his pride in those elders who had made the journey to Tuba City to help fight for N-aquifer water. He wondered aloud how many fights were left in them. Facing the PUC, Joshevema voiced his assurance that behaviors can change, and that mistakes made in the past can be corrected.

Translating the words of his father, Valjean, Joshevema asked PUC members and other participants “how they wanted to take care of their children’s lives, your life, our life.” The elder Joshevema spoke of the frustration of his people in learning that the slurry line has already broken down several times and stressed that the Hopi are responsible for keeping the land clean. “We can’t let the slurry dirty the land elsewhere,” he insisted.

Many mine employees stepped forward to express their concern for their jobs. “This affects the livelihood of my family,” one miner said. “A lot of us depend on it. Growing up, I had no shoes. Now I have sent a child to college.”

Employment at the mine, he said, allowed him to remain home on the Navajo Nation, to practice his traditional religion.

Alan Martin expressed the desire of mine workers to live the American Dream. “We want good things for our people,” Martin said. “We want clean water, food, to live our lives. I want both tribes to get their royalties.”

Marie Justice told the PUC that with her job she was able to help support a great number of family and extended family members. “Yes, we’re spoiled,” she admitted. “And we want this.”

Former tribal leaders also stepped to the podium to appeal to the PUC. Ivan Sidney, whose term as chairman of the Hopi Tribe fell within the years of the infamous Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute, said that Indian people needed to think above personal differences and that the dispute had prolonged the suffering.

Vernon Masayesva, also a former Hopi Chairman, was one of the only voices heard decrying continued dependence on Peabody Energy and the Mohave plant. “Instead of crying over spilt milk or shaking in my boots over what’s going to happen if Mohave closes, I have a proposal I want to submit to the PUC,” Masayesva said. “There are many intelligent people here. Let’s go to them and work with them to build a more sustainable economy.”

Unless the Hopi people take that step, he predicted, they would always be dependent on Peabody. Masayesva’s proposal asked the commission for restitution to help the Hopi People to provide other resources should the Mohave plant close.

Now, only time will tell what decision the California Public Utility Commission makes. SCE is asking that a decision be made by the end of this year. Judge Carol Brown indicated that she had no idea when a decision would be made, nor gave a hint as to what that decision might be.

The remaining question is, will environmental issues be resolved and an alternative water source for the slurrying of coal found in time to save the Mohave?


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.