Q&A: Obama’s Climate Plan Could Ease Path to Clean Energy On Tribal Lands

Jun. 28, 2013 / By

New America Media, Question & Answer, Ngoc Nguyen

Above: The Navajo Generating System / photo: Joshua Jovanelly, Gila River Indian News 

Editor’s note: President Obama unveiled a national plan to tackle climate change earlier this week, using his executive powers to bypass Congress, which had been gridlocked on measures to address the problem. The plan, for the first time, calls for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set limits on carbon emissions from new and old power plants, which make up about a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Coal-powered plants are the heaviest emitters of carbon pollution, and on tribal lands in Arizona, Native Americans have been pushing to transition their tribal economies away from coal and toward renewable energy. NAM’s Ngoc Nguyen spoke with Wahleah Johns, who co-directs the grassroots Black Mesa Water Coalition, on what lessons their work has for a national shift toward cleaner and renewable energy.

New America Media: How does Obama’s plan affect the work you are doing to transition away from coal power on tribal lands?

Wahleah Johns: [Obama] is pushing for renewable energy standards for the federal government. That’s great, since the majority owner of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is the federal government. They should start to implement this Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard… in an effort to reduce carbon pollution, nox (nitrogen oxide) pollution, smog — everything that comes out of these power plants.

They should start with the projects like the coal plants that they own. The Bureau of Reclamation, under [the] Department of Interior, owns 24.3 percent [of NGS]. They should start implementing renewable energy [there] as a way to reduce pollution.

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New America Media is the country's first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 3,000 ethnic news organizations. Over 57 million ethnic adults connect to each other, to home countries and to America through 3000+ ethnic media outlets, the fastest growing sector of American journalism. Founded by the nonprofit Pacific News Service in 1996, NAM is headquartered in California with offices in New York and Washington D.C., and partnerships with journalism schools to grow local associations of ethnic media.