Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Announcement: Dood (NO) Desert Rock Update!


Dooda (NO) Desert Rock is making this news release because of questions we are getting from concerned land users, and some Navajo Nation Council delegates, on the status of the proposed Desert Rock power plant. This is what we know:

This morning our attorney got an email from Torsten Schackel, the acting secretary of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, Switzerland. It stated that he received a copy of our communication to the Committee on the issue of Environmental Protection Agency discrimination against Navajos in the Shiprock area by failure to regulate pollution (and health problems suffered by Navajos in the Shiprock area), and he asked for an electronic copy of the communication. Our attorney immediately sent one, and the response was that the Committee will consider our communication when it does a follow-up on the United States report on discrimination in August of this year.

There is an appeal disputing the issuance of a permit under the Clean Air Act that is pending before the US Environmental Appeals Board of the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). We recently received a copy of the “amicus curiae” (“friend of the tribunal”) brief of Physicians for Social Responsibility. It lays out the health problems that coal-fired power plants cause very well, and it helps show why our discrimination complaint against the US EPA is valid. The appeal is still in progress.

In the meantime, the Region 9 office of the US EPA in San Francisco withdrew the Clean Air Act permit for the proposed desert rock power plant to get public comments on the question of whether it should regulate carbon dioxide emissions at the Desert Rock plant. We submitted our comments, and they say that a common-sense reading of the Clean Air Act shows that carbon dioxide should be regulated and there should be a “best available control technology” (“BDCT”) requirement for any permit. We agree with the New Mexico Environmental Protection Agency on that, and we have been communicating with that agency to show that grassroots Navajos support its position.

Research shows that the federal Environmental Protection Agency was aware that Navajos in the Shiprock area have respiratory problems from two existing power plants at five times the average rate, and ten times that rate for children under five and adults over 56 years old, prompted Dooda Desert Rock to file a discrimination complaint against the EPA with its outside discrimination investigation unit and to inform the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The EPA acknowledged receipt of the discrimination complaint and we are waiting for a ruling on whether the complaint will be accepted. It is based on Title VI of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits federal government involvement in discrimination.

We recently participated in a talk show program of “Native America Calling” and Nathan Plagens, of the Desert Rock project, said that he was not aware that the US EPA advised the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the health risks Navajos are suffering from the two existing power plants.

Finally, both the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs reopened an investigation of a right-of-way permit for a portion of the transmission line in New Mexico because of questions about adverse impacts.

Our assessment of the situation is that while the pending air permit appeal, receipt of public commentary on carbon dioxide regulations, and rethink of the federal right-of-way approval still leave open the possibility there will be federal approval of the proposed Desert Rock power plant, the Obama administration is buying time to study its options. In the long run, coal-fired power plants will be a thing of the past.

The Navajo Nation hosted a preparatory meeting of the North American Region of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on March 13-14, 2009 in Window Rock, AZ. The draft report from that meeting shows that there is consensus among indigenous groups in North America that we need to get serious about global warming.

We are also studying recent litigation that uses the law of public nuisance and a landmark decision in favor of an injunction brought by the State of North Carolina against the Tennessee Valley Authority that ruled that coal-fired power plants can be regulated as a public nuisance. We are studying the implications of that ruling for the Navajo Nation.

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