BLACK MESA, Ariz. — On March 28, members of the Navajo Nation Council met with employees from Peabody Coal Mine to provide information to miners regarding the status of Navajo Generating Station and implications for the mine and its employees.
Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates and Council Delegates Tom Chee and Nathaniel Brown met with more than 100 employees at the mine, also known as Kayenta Mine.
Bates and general manager Audry Rappleyea addressed the workers at the coal mine, reassuring them that the council is working with the Department of the Interior and NGS stakeholders to determine how the power plant can remain open beyond 2019.
Kayenta Mine is the sole provider of coal that NGS uses to produce electricity. If NGS closes, the mine owner would likely have to identify another purchaser of the coal that is mined at Kayenta Mine.
“We want you all to know and to understand the complexities of the situation because the current situation has the potential to impact you, but we are working with all the stakeholders to reach a solution,” Bates said.
According to Rappleyea, last year Peabody paid the Navajo Nation approximately $26 million in coal royalties that benefit the Nation each year. Bates explained the overall financial impact that a closure would have on the Nation and the entire state of Arizona.
Following his presentation, Bates answered questions from the coal mine workers.
One miner said he has worked at the mine for 43 years and asked the members of the council to continue advocating for the mine and its workers.
“I am asking you to continue fighting for our livelihoods,” said the employee. “Especially for the young workers, our sons and daughters.”
In February, Bates and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye met with Acting Deputy Secretary of the Interior James E. Cason, other federal and tribal officials, and stakeholders to discuss potential options for Navajo Generating Station.
The potential closure of the power plant is because of, in large part, the low cost of natural gas compared to coal. Officials with Salt River Project have said they will continue the operation of NGS until 2019, as long as the Navajo Nation is able to amend or change the current lease agreement to allow additional time after 2019 for reclamation efforts. If a lease extension is not finalized in the coming months, NGS owners say they would be forced to close the plant in July 2017 in order to begin and complete the two-year reclamation process by 2019.
During the February meeting, Cason asked the stakeholders for their assistance in working collectively to complete several tasks, including identifying potential new owners and an operator for the power plant, and identifying potential purchasers for the electricity produced by NGS.
The stakeholders and federal officials will meet again in April to report their findings and further discuss plans to keep Navajo Generating Station in operation for the long-term.
“We want to keep employees informed of what the Council is doing to address NGS and Kayenta Mine,” added, who is also planning to address NGS workers to provide them with an update and to address their questions and concerns.
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