Blessings to all the activists, particularly Tó Nizhóní Án, whose 40-year grassroots efforts help heal our damaged planet and potentially protect us from a cataclysmic future for all life at risk of extinction.
The demolition of the three 775-foot-tall smokestacks at Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is hugely symbolic. It marks the close of a painful chapter for thousands of Navajo and Hopi whose lives and families have been impacted by coal. Until it closed last November, the 2,400 MW power plant generated electricity for Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and other cities, insultingly bypassing Navajo and Hopi homes and businesses. The plant also pumped the massive amounts of water that has allowed Phoenix to grow into the fifth largest city in America, all while thousands of Navajo and Hopi homes also lack access to running water.
“The demolition of the smokestacks at NGS is a solemn event,” said Nicole Horseherder, executive director of the Navajo grassroots group Tó Nizhóní Ání, which has worked for 20 years to move the Navajo Nation past coal. “It’s a reminder of decades of exploitation subsidized by cheap coal and water from the Navajo and Hopi. Coal provided jobs and revenue to the Navajo Nation, but Navajo ranchers and farmers, who depended on the land that was mined and the water that fed the mine and power plant, shouldered the cost. While miners were provided safety gear as they worked, hundreds more living near the coal industrial complex had to endure asthma and other health issues without any recourse.
“That chapter is now closed,” Horseherder continued. “But the work is far from over. We have to make sure Kayenta Mine is cleaned up. We have to secure water and electricity for many communities that lack access to both. We have to replace the millions of dollars in lost coal revenue from the abrupt closure of the plant and coal mine. And we have to make sure investment flows back into building a more sustainable economy for the Navajo and Hopi.”
Now that the smokestacks are gone, the land occupied by the facility will be turned over to the Navajo Nation — but first, SRP will be required to complete the complicated and expensive process of clearing the plant’s remaining infrastructure and returning the land to its original state.
“All told, it’s about a $150 million effort to remove all the infrastructure that the Navajo Nation does not want to keep,” Harelson said. “The warehouse, admin building, railroad, lake pump, those facilities, will remain and become property of the Navajo Nation.”
There is also chemical cleanup to do — toxic compounds like coal ash need to be removed. “All of the hazardous chemicals have to be removed and disposed of properly. And there’s an extensive reclamation project to bring the project back to its original state,” Harelson said.
SRP has promised to do this “according to regulations and safety,” but some activists are concerned that there has been too little transparency as to what standards the company is following.
“We need to tell the communities about the toxins that are there,” Diné citizen scientist Kim Smith said. “Just because the smokestacks are going down there’s this mirage that everything is going to be okay, that we’re going to get what we’re owed, that the land is going back to what it was.”