The Navajo Generating Station is located on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Photo: Salt River Project

Hopi Tribe and Native activists lose cases over aging power plant

A federal appeals court has sided with the Environmental Protection Agency in a complex dispute over an aging coal-fired power plant on the Navajo Nation.

In one decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the EPA did not violate its trust responsibility by excluding the Hopi Tribe from a working group that developed a federal implementation plan for the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona. The court also said the tribe's alternate -- and more stringent -- air quality proposals did not have to be considered by the agency.

"The United States has a general trust relationship with the Indian tribes," Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote for the majority on Monday.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Hopi Tribe v. Environmental Protection Agency

"The Hopi ask us to treat this as a duty to consult, stemming from the trust relationship, and binding on the United States as a single entity. No authority allows us to do that, however," she continued. "The record shows that the EPA did, in fact, consult with the Hopi Tribe throughout the rulemaking process."

In the second decision, also issued Monday, the 9th Circuit rejected a challenge to the federal implementation plan that was filed by Navajo activists and Navajo organizations. They too were seeking stronger air quality standards but the court said the EPA's emission limits were "reasonable."

The Navajo Generating Station is located near Paige, on the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation. Under decisions made by the Obama administration in January 2013 and July 2013, it is required to meet certain standards for air emissions.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: Yazzie v. Environmental Protection Agency

The Navajo Nation officially supported those decisions, along with a 2014 final rule about emission standards. The plant's operation provides revenues for the tribe and jobs on the reservation.

The owners are planning to shut the station down by December 2019 due to the "rapidly changing economics of the energy industry" that have resulted in less than attractive prices for coal.

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decisions:
Hopi Tribe v. Environmental Protection Agency (March 20, 2017)
Yazzie v. Environmental Protection Agency (March 20, 2017)

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