Navajo Generating Station Is Worth Protecting

Late last week, Amy Harder, a reporter from the Wall Street Journal, announced on Twitter that the president of Navajo Nation had met with White House staff at least eight times in an effort to protect an important coal-fired power plant on Navajo land. The Navajo Generating Station has been a target of EPA rules and the subject of some degree of controversy. In fact, PACE has referenced the plant often when speaking to groups about the impacts of EPA rule making on jobs.

A comment on Harder’s tweet caught my attention. Erica Fick, editor of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Exchange blog, wasn’t too concerned about the potential closure of Navajo Generating Station. Fick commented, “Solar employed 7k+ people in AZ last year. Why are we splitting hairs over 800 jobs lost to coal?”

My response to Fick was simple. The reason to be concerned over the loss of 800 jobs in an impoverished community should be obvious. Jobs are important. Jobs is an economically depressed area are even more important. Not to mention that the plant remains a source of baseload electricity in the region.

We’re not alone in our advocacy for the Navajo Generating Station, of course. The people who stand to lose the most from the plant’s potential closure have ramped up their efforts to preserve it. The Navajo and Hopi tribes have now joined forces to tell lawmakers that the plant is an important economic driver for the region and particularly for tribal members.

Without a change in EPA policy toward Navajo Generating Station, the plant will be forced to shut down one of its three 750 megawatt units by 2020. Even the units that would be allowed to remain running would have to be equipped with costly upgrades by 2030. In other words, the plant has found itself in the crosshairs of EPA policy. Without some intervention by the president or the legislative branch, Navajo Generating Station will soon find itself on the list of coal-fired power plants shuttered by federal rules.

The story is complicated even further by California energy mandates that are designed to reduce the import of fossil fuel electricity. California state law essentially forces public utilities to walk away from contracts with coal-fired power. This has real implications for the power plants in the region such as Navajo Generating Station, since California is a net importer of electricity and  often requires power from nearby states like Arizona. As recently as two years ago, southern California received as much as half of its electricity from three out-of-state coal-fired power plants.

Notwithstanding the major contributions of Navajo Generating Station to meeting the energy demand of the region, the plant is important for other reasons. It is an economic engine for one of the poorest places in America. It creates steady, high-paying jobs in an area where few are available. It symbolizes stability for a community that sorely needs it. Hopefully, the pleas of Navajo and Hopi leaders don’t go unnoticed by leaders in Washington, DC. The Environmental Defense Fund might nonchalantly turn a blind eye to the potential loss of 800 jobs, but our nation’s leaders shouldn’t.