Too many closed doors on NGS

STANDING ROCK, N.M. – Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize had a plan to wrap up the controversial lease extension for Navajo Generating Station by June 14 but an unexpected and sad event changed that plan.

Naize informed the Council in a June 12 memo that he postponed the June 14 special Council session to June 28 because he’s still working on amendments to the Navajo Generating Station lease extension.

He also advised the Council that because of the confidentiality of the lease extension negotiations that they should expect to have a portion of their deliberations on the lease extension in executive session.

On May 28, Naize informed the Council about the June 14 special session.

Naize identified the June 28 date after the Council’s Naa’biki’yati’ Committee met at the Standing Rock chapter on May 30 to deliberate on several issues, especially a report by Navajo Nation Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff about recommendations from the Council’s Energy Task Force regarding the 25-year lease extension for NGS.

Bobroff’s report was at the top of the committee’s agenda.

But as the committee was discussing changes to its agenda items, Naize, who is the Energy Task Force chairperson, informed the committee that Bobroff’s mother had passed away and so she would be unable to make her report.

After Naize’s announcement, the committee voted to remove and reschedule Bobroff’s report.

The Naa’biki’yati’ Committee met in Birdsprings, Ariz., on June 13 and according to their agenda, the committee was to hear a report from the Energy Task Force about the lease extension, which Naize stated would be held behind closed doors because of the confidentiality of the negotiations.

If the Council had met Naize’s June 14 deadline, it would have been the second time that the Council took action on the lease extension.

The Council is having its five-day summer session from June 15 to 19 at the Council chamber in Window Rock, Ariz.

After the Council met an April 29 deadline set by the NGS owners to approve the lease extension, Salt River Project Associate General Manager & Chief Power System Executive Michael Hummel notified Naize and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly that the Council’s offer was “unacceptable.”

Council Delegate Russell Begaye said on June 4 that Naize rescheduled a meeting between Council delegates and SRP from June 7 to June 6 at the Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff.

On June 12, Begaye said that since the meeting was in executive session that all he could say was that he walked away from the meeting happy.

SRP, which operates NGS, has been representing the NGS owners in negotiations with the tribe over the lease extension. The owners are U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, SRP, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Arizona Public Service, Nevada Power Company and Tucson Electric Power.

Begaye said before the June 6 meeting that he would continue to stand by his amendment to the lease extension which he said “simply asks NGS owners not to oppose the Navajo Nation’s claim to its water rights of the Colorado River.”

NGS’s use of 34,100 acre feet of water from the Colorado River to power its steam boilers and cooling systems was also among key concerns of Navajo Reservation based grassroots groups and organizations.

The 34,100 afw is from the 50,000 afw from the Colorado River that Arizona has claimed.

The Navajo Council’s Naa’biki’ yati’ Committee Water Rights Task Force met May 22 at the Twin Arrows Casino but went into executive session shortly after Naize, who chairs the water rights task force, informed the task force that they needed to discuss a “confidential attorney/client privilege” memo from tribal Department of Justice Water Rights attorney Stanley Pollack.

Pollack was one of the one of the creators of the controversial Navajo Hopi Little Colorado River Water Settlement, which was touted by US Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, who both represent Arizona, and  strongly opposed by both Navajo and Hopi people.

The use of water by NGS and Peabody Coal Company, which gets pristine water from the Navajo Aquifer, killed the proposed Little Colorado River water settlement touted by, after reservation grassroots entities uncovered a provision in the proposed water settlement that would have had the tribe waive any and all of its future water rights claims to the 50,000 afw.

Grassroots groups also exposed another provision in the proposed water settlement that would have approved lease extensions for NGS and Peabody’s Kayenta Mine.

Begaye said on April 30 that as he read Hummel’s letter he thought about how African Americans were legally forced to sit in the back of buses.

“The Navajo Nation is in the same predicament,” he said. “I believe the Navajo people are being made to sit in the back of the bus regarding our water rights and minerals. It’s time for our leaders to rise up like the African Americans, walk to the front of bus and take our place among others.”

Begaye said that the bullying by corporations over the past years was accepted as normal.

“It’s time for us to stop bowing down to these huge corporations and industries and allowing cities like Phoenix and Tucson to enjoy economic development and healthy lifestyles from cheap electricity and water that Navajo resources provide while we sit in the back of bus with left-overs,” he emphasized.

Begaye added, “I just don’t understand how anyone, who enjoys indoor plumbing and access to water for personal enjoyment and business development, would oppose the Navajo people’s attempt to access water for the same benefits.”

Hummel reminded Shelly and Naize in his April 30 letter that when the NGS owners met with the Council in Flagstaff on April 22, they told the Council that they would not agree to an amended lease extension that included a provision that the owners may not interfere with or oppose a Navajo Nation claim to water from the Upper Colorado River Basin.

He explained that the Council had made changes to the lease extension that made it unacceptable to the NGS owners.

Hummel noted, “If the Council insists on the proposed changes, it is unlikely we will reach a resolution.

“The NGS owners believe that timing is critical, and determining if there is a solution agreeable to both parties should happen in an expeditious manner,” he added. “I am very concerned that if we do not reach resolution of these issues very soon, the future of Navajo Generating Station is in jeopardy.”

Hummel noted that an agreement on the lease extension also depended on federal environmental requirements and a fuel contract between NGS and Peabody.

SRP has repeatedly informed the Council that before NGS owners invest $1 billion into the federal pollution technology, which is called selective catalytic reduction, they need to have the lease extension in place.

On May 28, the Arizona House of Representatives sent a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency that opposed the EPA ruling for NGS to install new nitrogen oxide emission controls by 2023 and asked for additional public hearings.

“Due to the sweeping nature of EPA’s proposed rule, and because of the significant adverse impacts it would have on Arizona residents, tribes, businesses, agricultural interests, and other key industries in the state, the requested additional public hearings are necessary for EPA to hear directly from all stakeholders impacted by EPA’s proposed rule,” the representatives stated.

The representatives emphasized that if NGS has to install the controls or shut down that water rates across the state would double or triple, and that 3,400 jobs and about $20 million in state revenues would be jeopardized.

Among the state representatives signing the letter to the EPA was Rep. Albert Hale, a former Navajo Nation president, who was forced to resign after admitting to tribal ethics violations regarding misuse of tribal money, property and personnel.