Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sun, Feb. 28

President Shirley upset with remand of Desert Rock permit

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. last Monday expressed great disappointment at how the Navajo Nation is being treated by the U.S. EPA regarding its decision to remand the Desert Rock Energy Project permit to EPA Region 9.

President Shirley said he was disappointed to learn of the EPA's decision after it was made, and doesn't consider that true consultation with the Navajo Nation or the change he had hoped for from the Obama Administration.

"I'm just hurt in many ways as leader of this big nation," President Shirley told U.S. EPA Region 9 Acting Regional Administrator Laura Yoshi in a teleconference. "We're just not getting the cooperation we're needing to move this project along. How many more people of mine are going to die before the U.S. government responds to help?"

President Shirley has requested a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the Navajo Nation's need for the Desert Rock project but said this decision has made that request more urgent.

"Because of [this] action, I am asking for a meeting with President Obama sooner rather than later," the President said. "On the campaign trail, President Obama acknowledged the federal government has not always been honest and truthful in its dealings with Native America, and frankly, I am feeling that sentiment today."

President Shirley said President Obama indicated his White House policy would create a new relationship with Native people that is based on dignity and respect.

"Fair and equal treatment on our Desert Rock project is the place to start," President Shirley said. "This isn't just about energy. This is about sovereignty. This is about saving self. This is about the Navajo Nation regaining its independence by developing the financial wherewithal to take care of its own problems. I have people dying every day because of poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, gangs, and the U.S. Government is not there to adequately fund the direct service programs that cater to these needs."

The President said a project like Desert Rock, which will bring more than $50 million annually to the Nation, is the Navajo Nation's best hope to break the cycle of dependency on the federal government.

"I think you already know where my heart is on behalf of my people, my nation," President Shirley told Yoshi. "And certainly I shared that in the best way that I knew how when I talked with the administrator (Lisa Jackson) back on April 12."

"I appreciate all the support that has been afforded us by the U.S. EPA thus far," President Shirley told Yoshi. "Certainly, you know that I'll do anything and everything that I can to help move things along. Of course, you and I know that we should have had this permit four or five years ago, and here we are in another administration still trying to get at moving things along."

With regard to the motion to remand, President Shirley asked Yoshi how much longer the Navajo Nation should expect to wait before the U.S. EPA makes a decision of some sort.

"We've been asking for decisions right and left for a long time," he told her. "This project has been on the books going on 25 years now, and I hope you don't change the rules on us in mid-stream here."

President Shirley said it would appear that the EPA has gone back on the legal promises it previously made to the Navajo people that:

• The federal Clean Air Act compelled EPA to issue its permit within one year of EPA's determination that the permit application was complete - a decision that EPA Region 9 made in 2004. The EPA failed to comply with that promise.

• In light of a federal court action, EPA agreed to a settlement under which it would act on the permit application prior to July 31, 2008. The EPA failed to comply with that promise.

• EPA has been instructed by the Environmental Appeals Board on three of its arguments - the role of IGCC as test for best available control technology; the substitution of PM10 for PM2.5; and the applicability of the Endangered Species Act. In each case, EPA failed to comply with applicable law and precedent.

The cumulative result of these reversals in light of the rule of law especially prejudice the Navajo people and the projects we wish to undertake to provide clean power, improve living conditions, alleviate poverty and enhance self-determination, he said.

"Every day this project is delayed, we are losing our Navajo children to poverty and alcoholism because of lack of opportunity," President Shirley said. "To me, my nation and my people, this is about the survival of our nation. I want to know that Navajos can live within their own homeland 20 years, 50 years, 100 years from now, and, as president, Desert Rock is the key to ensure that happening."

"EPA sends the unmistakable message that it will hold facilities on Navajo land to standards that may well be impossible to meet - and one that wouldn't [be] applicable elsewhere," he said.

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