Opinion: Hope for tribes with alternative energy
"We agree with Hopi and Navajo concerns over economic development and job creation and their right to speak out. We also stand united in encouraging tribal leaders to embrace prosperity and health in the 21st century with clean, renewable energy. Considering that our fossil-fuel-based economy will eventually disappear, we believe it is time to look ahead.

For too many years, Southwestern tribes have borne the loss of groundwater and the health impacts and destruction of our homelands from coal, while outside interests profited greatly. At the invitation of tribal communities, conservation groups have joined to help create a better path.

Burning coal is a key contributor to climate change, but it also generates many other toxins. The Mohave Generating Station was in violation of federal clean-air standards, thereby impacting our health and the entire Southwest. Although they had reached an agreement on pollution controls, the owners chose to close the plant in 2005 because of a failure to reach an agreement with Navajo and Hopi governments on coal royalties and the protection of tribal water supplies.

Two other coal plants built long ago on Navajo land are also in violation. Their toxins drift beyond reservation and state borders. Owners of these plants, who do not include tribes, need to reduce their pollution or, better yet, invest in local clean, renewable-energy projects to start transitioning to a more sustainable and healthy economy.

Meanwhile, most coal plants proposed across the country are becoming too risky and costly to build. The planned Desert Rock plant on Navajo land still has no customers, and the permit has been sent back for more environmental review at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, tribal members and nearby residents.

When Hopi and Navajo people were forced to leave Black Mesa by mining interests, so went their "prosperity." While the mesa's coal provides cheap electricity for Western states, 40 years later, thousands of tribal homes near the mines, power plants and transmission lines are still without electricity and running water. Unemployment chronically hovers above 40 percent. This exploitation by outside interests has done little to alleviate chronic poverty.

But there is hope for the future."

Get the Story:
Robert Tohe and Tony Skrelunas: Tribes should look beyond coal energy (The Arizona Republic 10/17)

Related Stories:
Navajo leader joins criticism of green groups (10/01)
Hopi Tribe unhappy with conservation groups (9/30)