A bill in Congress would help rebuild economies that rely on the Navajo Generating Station. It comes as NGS is expected to shut down mid-November, leaving uncertainty about how communities, mainly the Navajo Nation and Page, will survive economically.
Democrat Tom O’Halleran represents the area in the House of Representatives and is the bill’s sponsor. He spoke with KNAU’s Zac Ziegler.
Zac Ziegler: “This bill is quite timely. How close are we to Navajo Generating Station close
Tom O'Halleran: “We knew this day was coming. There was some period of time when there was an attempt to keep the coal mine and the Navajo Generation Station open. That did not prevail, and so the end result is the mine is now closed and the generation station will be closed by the end of the year.”
ZZ: So is it common for communities to take this kind of hit when we see a power plant or a mine close?
TO: “Definitely, what we did with this is the local community up there came up with the concept of, ‘What happens when a military base closes?’ We thought originally we would you be able to take that concept and move it over and address it that way. But it was a little more complicated than that, and we had to reach out and start to go through the complete legislative process designing a bill specifically for plants like this that have a government piece. In this case, 24% of the plant was owned by the federal government. They had also made a lot of promises about how long this place would go, 2044. Those promises aren’t being kept.”
ZZ: “If you look at the big employers in this area it's NGS and Kayenta, and then you're talking about jobs that are tourism-related with Lake Powell. How do you retrain a workforce when there isn't any similar industry nearby?”
TO: “Part of it is to do the economic development piece which is in the bill to help create that. There are certain assets that came out of this process: the transmission line we’re p otentially going to have depending on what the Navajo want to do it, solar, wind energy. We have the ability now to have the type of infrastructure that can lead to a more diversified economic base in the communities.”
ZZ: “Your bill mentions studies that would look at possible new uses for the closed sites and economic renewal in the area. What can such studies provide?
TO: “Well, insight into what people are looking for in different Industries and how this area fits into those needs. You can't sell an area until you know the economic advantages that it does have. Once we get all that packaged together we can clearly identify the regional structure of what we can provide to businesses from anywhere.”
ZZ: “You mentioned that the closure of Navajo Generating Station was the impetus for this bill but it couldn't have wider implications if passed?”
TO: “There's still going to be a large number of generation stations that will close because of economic conditions. The development of this type of a pilot project, if you want to call it that, or this type of a project in general will allow us to have a better idea of how rural America can survive what's coming.”
ZZ: “Representative O’Halleran, thank you very much for joining me today.”
TO: “Thanks Zac, appreciate it.”