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Mohave Generating Station to shut down

By Daniel Kraker

Kykotsmovi, AZ – To Vernon Maseyesva, this coming New Year's Day is like another holiday for Hopi people.

AX: This is Independence Day. Independence Day. We cut the umbilical cord to the company store, that has bought out our soul.

Vernon Masayesva directs the Black Mesa Trust, the Hopi environmental group many people credit, or blame, depending on your point of view, for Mohave's looming shutdown. For decades the Hopi tribe has been economically dependent on Peabody, but at the expense, Masayesva says, of its water and land. Sitting next to a woodstove in his comfortable home in Kykotsmovi, he scoffs at the idea that Mohave's closure is an economic disaster.

AX: Track 13, 3:00 If Hopi culture is going to be saved we all have to rejoice in this particular moment. If Hopis think money is the only thing that is going to make us survive, I'm very embarrassed, because that's not what my ancestors taught me. Our ancestors survived, why can't we, why can't we honor their courage and their wisdom. We can do it. But if we chose to keep that dirty plant open, if we allow it to continue, to abuse our water, we don't deserve to be here.

SFX: phone ringing, receptionist answering Hopi vice chairman's office

But just a few hundred yards away at the Hopi tribal government complex, councilman King Honanie says the tribe will lose six million dollars annually when Mohave closes. That's about a third of the tribe's operating budget.

AX: TRACK 5 1:00 We're in a tough situation right now we're coming down to the nitty gritty track 4 Cuts in village funds, allocations, that's going to be a setback for a lot of the villages. Tribal government, a lot of the employees are going to be affected.

It's also miners who are going to be affected.

SFX: truck bouncing over dirt road

Two hours north of the Hopi reservation, up and over Black Mesa on washboard dirt roads, the town of Kayenta is bracing for the economic impact of Black Mesa Mine's closure. Lena Clitso's husband Edward has worked at the mine for 30 years.

AX: So it does hit home. 30 years, 30 years, he's a machinist, his job is kind of specialized, that might help, who knows, just hoping for the best. 1:45 He likes his work, he's glad, that industry there for the length of time it's been there, it helped raise his kids, he's grateful for that track 10 we put two through college.

Jobs at Black Mesa Mine paid as much as 70 thousand dollars. That's seven times the per capita income on the Hopi and Navajo reservations. Kayenta chapter vice president Alyce Yazzie says those jobs typically supported large extended families. She knows first-hand she has a brother and brother-in-law who work there.

AX: 1:00 It's kind of scary the economy that we have here, there's not really much for the people that got laid off to get in another job. They got so used to the high paying job up there, there's nothing that will be competitive to that

Peabody Energy spokeswoman Beth Sutton says in all 600 jobs will be lost among the power plant, the slurry pipeline and the mine.

AX: Just looking at the mine's economic benefits alone, you're looking at approx. 90 million dollars a year that represents direct benefits that are injected into the region that's in terms of royalties, taxes, charitable contributions, wages and benefits. The sadness of closure is that it serves no one, the tribes, our employees, or the electricity customers, who are facing ever increasing energy bills.

Mohave's closure will, however, benefit the environment. Roger Clark is Director of Air and Energy for the Grand Canyon Trust in Flagstaff.

AX: It's the last unscrubbed major coal fired power plant in the intermountain west. It's putting out about 40 thousand tons of SO2 a year, it's one of the dirtiest power plants that we have.

In 1999 the Grand Canyon Trust and other groups sued Southern California Edison, the plant's majority owner, for violating the Clean Air Act. In lieu of going to court, Edison agreed to install pollution control scrubbers by the end of this year. But the utility hesitated to make the multi-million dollar investment without a new coal supply agreement with Peabody, which also expires at the end of the year.

These deadlines all boiled down to the issue of water. Peabody was feeling pressure from Hopi and Navajo grassroots groups, and eventually the tribal governments, to stop pumping the Navajo aquifer to slurry the coal to Mohave. As the Black Mesa Trust's Vernon Masayesva explains, to the Hopi, water is everything.

AX: Track 12, :45 To Hopis, we all came from water, that's the basic law. All of us, all life comes from water even our language is formed through water. When you drink water you say hiko, when you take a breath you say hiksee, almost sounds the same, water, breath, water, life.

Eventually Peabody agreed to pursue an alternative water source. The Bureau of Reclamation is studying a plan to pump the Coconino Aquifer near Leupp, and pipe that water to Black Mesa Mine. Edison has agreed to pay 200 million dollars to construct the pipeline. The tribes want the federal government to kick in 15 million to bring additional water to reservation communities. They say they need that water to further develop their economies. But again, not all Navajos and Hopis agree. Thomas Cody is Leupp's chapter president. He says the current plan would still leave him and most of his constituents without water.

AX: I have to have my water hauled, water for my livestock hauled, and it disturbs me that we're going to have a big old pipeline that runs past my house, past my chapter, I'll still be sitting out there without running water, and my little nephews and nieces will still be sitting out there 15 years from now without running water.

Even if the Interior Department eventually signs off on the C Aquifer plan, it would take Edison at least three years to retrofit Mohave and replace the aging slurry pipeline, so the plant could reopen. So, a coalition of environmental groups have proposed what they call a Just Transition Plan to mitigate the economic impacts felt by the tribes. When Mohave closes, its owners will receive about 50 thousand sulfur dioxide allowances worth more than 20 million dollars annually. The Grand Canyon Trust's Roger Clark says Edison should return some of that money to the Hopi and Navajo Nations, in part to invest in renewable energy.

AX: One way to look at it is all these years the owners of Mohave have been purchasing the coal, but they're really interested in the carbon, the rest of the material, including the sulfur is waste, that they've been dumping with impunity, now they turn around and get credit for stopping that dumping, and one way to look at is, well the tribes still own that sulfur, they own the carbon, they have the right to that sulfur credit.

Clark admits the proposal is treading new ground. It's unclear if the California Public Utilities Commission can mandate how those credits are spent. About the only thing that is certain is that Mohave Generating Station will close on January 1st. When, or if, it reopens, remains to be seen.

For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Daniel Kraker