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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