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Navajo Travel to NY to Protest Coal Plant

As of 2016, the Navajo Generating Station was the 11th biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (Eflon/Flickr)
As of 2016, the Navajo Generating Station was the 11th biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. (Eflon/Flickr)
September 10, 2018

PAGE, Ariz. – Members of the Navajo Nation are in New York City Monday to call attention to the fate of the biggest coal power plant in the West.

The Navajo Generating Station in Northern Arizona is set to close next year. But New York investment firm Avenue Capital Group is considering buying it.

The coal plant provides hundreds of jobs to Navajo people and is a major source of revenue for the tribe. This is critical on the Navajo reservation where unemployment is around 45 percent. So, many Navajo support the sale and continued operation of the plant.

But Nicole Horseherder, executive director of the Navajo environmental group To Nizhoni Ani, says the coal plant has led to air and water pollution, and health consequences for her neighbors.

"I think it's important for people out there to know that the type of jobs and the type of revenue we need is one that doesn't kill people and doesn't kill the environment,” she states. “So to those people that are concerned about the jobs and revenues, we are also concerned."

The Clean Air Task Force reports that air pollution from the Navajo Generating Station contributes to asthma and heart attacks in the region.

Data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows the plant is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in the country.

Horseherder and several others from the Navajo Nation hope to meet with the CEO of Avenue Capital Group in New York. Horseherder says she wants the potential buyer to hear from the people whose health is impacted by coal power.

Horseherder is concerned that the Navajo Nation economy relies too heavily on the generating station. She says with or without a buyer for the plant, coal power will eventually decline.

"As everyone knows, coal is not unlimited,” she points out. “At some point the coal is not going to be in the ground anymore, it's going to be gone. What do people do at that point? Do we continue to let the fate of our lives and our future be in the hands of industry and utility?"

The Navajo Generating Station provides power to customers in Arizona, Nevada and California, and powers the pumps that bring water to central and southern Arizona.

But the Arizona utilities that operate the plant have found cheaper alternatives in natural gas in recent years.

The generating station and nearby Kayenta Mine are scheduled to close in 2019 if they are not sold.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - AZ