PRESS RELEASE – Navajo communities say they deserve immunity from toxic pollution

Diné citizens call for respect of Diné Fundamental Law and accountability on economics of coal operations, as they ask the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear case on coal mine expansion and power plant extension operations

Burnham, NM. September. 13, 2019 – The longtime Navajo organization, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, is joining as co-appellants in petitioning the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the merits of their case, Diné C.A.R.E. et al. v. Bureau of Indian Affairs et al. This case seeks to uphold and apply federal environmental laws to the operations of Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant.

The unchecked expansion and extension of Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant has a real impact on Navajo communities, and the living world. Navajo communities have borne the brunt of fossil fuel extraction and unsustainable corporate practices that have resulted in the devastation and pollution of our Diné homeland, including the habitats of our plant and animal relatives, and our precious natural resources. Under Diné Fundamental Law, Diné people have a sacred obligation to protect the land and the air, and uphold the virtues of living in harmony with the world.

“Federal environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act support some of the same goals as Diné Fundamental laws, said Robyn Jackson, Climate & Energy Outreach Coordinator for Diné C.A.R.E. “Diné C.A.R.E. recognizes the necessity of these laws when defending our communities. In the past, these federal environmental laws have brought our tribal citizens and communities much needed justice and relief from the effects of toxic development projects.”

Diné C.A.R.E. and other organizations had challenged the expanded operations of the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine, on the basis that federal approvals for continued operations of the power plant and mine violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Most recently, the challenge had initially been dismissed by a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel on grounds that the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) was an indispensable party to the lawsuit but could not be sued because it claimed sovereign immunity under the Navajo Nation. Diné C.A.R.E. and other organizations are now asking the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the merits of the case.

“Instead of trying to circumvent federal laws designed to protect the environment, entities like NTEC and others that want to keep us tied to coal should stop ignoring the Navajo Nation’s own Fundamental Law and do more to support the protection of our land and air, and the efforts to transition to a renewable energy economy,” said Adella Begaye, Board President of Diné C.A.R.E.

“We find it problematic that previous court decisions would not consider our claims, because they felt they couldn’t touch the subject of NTEC’s assertion of sovereign immunity. Diné C.A.R.E. fully supports Navajo Nation Sovereignty, but NTEC’s claim of sovereign immunity as it relates to U.S. law is disingenuous. It puts our families and our plant and animal relatives at risk of toxic pollution and habitat destruction, and is in direct conflict with the Navajo Nation’s own Fundamental Law,” continued Begaye.

Natural Law under the Diné Fundamental Laws, codified by the Navajo Nation Council in 2002, reminds us that, “The Diné have a sacred obligation and duty to respect, preserve, and protect all that was provided, for we were designated as the steward of these relatives.” The members of Diné C.A.R.E. recognize the wisdom of the Diné Fundamental Law that states: “All creation, from Mother Earth and Father Sky to the animals, those who live in water, those who fly, and plant life have their own laws, and have rights and freedom to exist.”

Diné grassroots community groups are increasingly concerned that NTEC’s efforts to cling to the unchecked use of coal are a distraction from the urgency that the Navajo Nation is under to plan for a transition away from coal and develop new economic activities that stand a better chance of benefiting local communities and be in harmony with the land. Equally troubling, are the economic ramifications of NTEC’s preference for coal development.

Coal is a sinking industry and its fundamental economics are not going to change, posing an enormous threat to the financial health of the Navajo Nation. Electricity from renewable energy is now less expensive and far more in demand, and Four Corners coal operations face the same economics that led to closure announcements at NGS, Kayenta Mine, and other coal facilities around the West.

“Adding salt to the wound, since its formation, NTEC has not been publicly transparent about its financial information and profits from Navajo Mine. With coal market forces in decline, we are concerned about the economic viability of coal and allowing the expansion and extension of Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant would simply not provide our tribe and its members economic security,” said Begaye.

CONTACT: Robyn Jackson, Diné C.A.R.E., (505) 862.4433, robyn.jackson@dine-care.org

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