Tribe at a Crossroads: The Navajo Nation Purchases a Coal Mine

By Clay, Rebecca Fairfax | Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Tribe at a Crossroads: The Navajo Nation Purchases a Coal Mine


Clay, Rebecca Fairfax, Environmental Health Perspectives


Situated where the four corners of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado meet, the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation boasts some of the most abundant energy resources on tribal lands in the United States, including fossil fuels and the potential for using wind and sun. In December 2013 the tribe shifted for the first time from leasing much of its coal-rich land to outside mining companies, to owning and operating one of its coal mines itself. (1) But the $85-million purchase has caused deep concern among critics who fear it saddles the tribe with the twin burdens of a polluted past and an unsustainable future.

The Navajo Nation bought Navajo Mine from Australian energy giant BHP Billiton, which reportedly is selling off smaller assets worldwide. (2) The mine's sole customer is the nearby Four Corners Power Plant (FCPP)--one of the largest coal-fired generating stations in the country--which, likewise, buys all its coal from Navajo Mine. (3)

If the 50-year-old mine had been shut down, as feared by tribal leaders, hundreds of jobs and millions in tax and royalty revenue for the Navajo Nation would have been at risk, according to Steve Gundersen, board chairman of the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC, a company created by the tribe to help acquire and manage the mine. In addition, if the mine had been closed, the plant would have been expected to close as well. (4) "The most immediate purpose for buying the mine was to preserve the stability of the Navajo Nation's economy," Gundersen says. "If the mine and power plant were removed from the Navajo economy, the results, within a year, would have been devastating. We needed to preserve the business and income."

The purchase potentially offers another benefit, as LoRenzo Bates, chairman of the Navajo Nation Council's Budget and Finance Committee, told Indian Country Today. "Rather than sitting on the sidelines, we now have a say in the energy industry in terms of how that reserve of coal is being used," Bates said. "This ... goes beyond the coal industry and allows us a voice in alternative forms of energy. Coal can have other uses, and this makes us a player in the industry." (5)

Environmental groups acknowledge the importance of Navajo coal to the rapid growth of the U.S. Southwest, and the thousands of jobs it has provided in the remote and impoverished Four Corners area, where most of the region's coal mines are located. But they are concerned about the environmental impacts of more than a half-century of coal operations.

"Coal has really been a building block for this part of the country," says Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, an environmental group working in the region. "The Navajo Nation has been highly dependent on fossil fuels and fossil fuel electricity export, especially when you realize that a large portion of their budget is associated with coal. But, we ask, at what expense?"

Jobs and Revenue versus the Environment

The tribe completed the mine purchase through seller financing, with BHP Billiton providing a loan for the purchase price to Navajo Transitional Energy Company. Proceeds from the revenue generated from the mine, beyond what the Navajo Nation would normally have received, will be applied toward the purchase price. (6) Under the terms of the deal, BHP Billiton will continue to manage the mine through 2016, when the tribe--or a separate company--is expected to assume management, according to BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal president Pat Risner.

The sale would help "secure the significant flow of benefits to the community," says Risner. "Navajo Mine is a viable business, and the Navajo Nation is the 'natural owner,' given it is a Navajo Nation resource on Navajo Nation land with primarily Navajo tribal members employed."

But the purchase of Navajo Mine has pitted those hoping to preserve employment and income against those who argue the Navajo Nation should quit the coal business entirely and develop small- and utility-scale sustainable energy projects instead. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Tribe at a Crossroads: The Navajo Nation Purchases a Coal Mine
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.