When a new business comes knocking at our proverbial door promising skilled jobs and economic strength, leaders pull out all the stops to secure opportunity for the state. Shouldn’t the same standard hold true for protecting existing jobs in our communities?
Arizona is on the brink of losing vital assets that keep our power secure and rural economies strong. If the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta Mine are forced to shut down fully a quarter century before Congress intended, we will lose 850 direct jobs, thousands of indirect jobs and billions in gross state product in the years ahead.
Communities like Flagstaff, Page, Kayenta, Window Rock, Kykotsmovi and others in the far reaches of the state will be severely disadvantaged. We face lost jobs, lost purchasing power, and a diminished tax base, among other challenges. Given a majority of mine and power plant jobs are held by tribal people with no immediate opportunity to find jobs of equivalent value, many families will have no other choice but to move away from their traditional homeland to make ends meet. We cannot allow this to happen.
The Navajo Generating Station is running strong and is vital for the stability of tribal economies and reliability of our energy system. Without the generating station, studies show power costs will continue to climb and Arizona will move closer to California’s failed and expensive energy model that puts all of its power resources in one basket. There is a reason why California pays some of the highest power prices in the nation even while its families struggled through power outages this summer. This is no model for Arizona.
The Navajo Generating Station can deliver competitive, affordable power. Because the current owners want to shutter the plant next year, each passing day puts our state, our tribes and our communities at greater risk.
If the plant is forced to close, 85 percent of the Hopi budget and 22 percent of the Navajo’s budget would be lost in one sweep, taking away the means to deliver basic services that support the health and welfare of tribal people. This will curtail needed services for schools, police, fire, veterans and elderly throughout chapters and villages.
The Hopi are especially hard hit, facing severe curtailment of government functions, which would force them to lay off hundreds of their own people. While both tribes are working to diversify their economies, there are no immediate solutions to replace these lost jobs and revenues, and the promise of renewable jobs has never materialized.
We should fight to keep this plant online and preserve jobs with the same level of energy we use to attract new business to our communities. The U.S. government, which is an owner of the plant, can fulfill its trust duty to the Hopi and Navajo people, and in turn, protect rural towns, through swift and decisive action to keep the plant online. This will require holding stakeholders accountable, ensuring the law is upheld and recognizing that the Navajo Generating Station is important for protecting energy security, water delivery and tribal economies in the U.S. Southwest.
Decades ago, the Navajo and Hopi offered access to their land and resources to create energy that powers our homes and moves water across the state to maintain lifestyles and livelihoods. They did so with the promise of sustaining revenues spanning 70 years. The Navajo Generating Station is the only U.S. coal plant commissioned by Congress using taxpayer dollars and was uniquely designed to foster long-term economic development.
Yet today the non-governmental plant owners want to cut this agreement short, and the Central Arizona Project, for which the plant was built, has walked away from its legal obligation to take the plant’s power. As a result, tribal people who have been directly responsible for our growth and prosperity are thrust into uncertainty and stand to lose the most.
The administration has consistently demonstrated a commitment to energy diversity, and the Secretary of the Interior has expressed his support for keeping the plant online. It’s time for leaders to turn words into action.
Like all meaningful opportunities for economic development, we should pull out all the stops to keep the Navajo Generating Station online. We owe it to the Navajo and Hopi people, and we owe it to ourselves to fight for our energy security, our economic strength and our rural communities.
Julie Pastrick is president/CEO of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.