Navajo protest third coal-fired plant on reservation land
Members of the Navajo Nation and their supporters have been blockading the site of a proposed coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico for more than a week now, hoping to halt construction of what they believe will be a social and ecological disaster.
If completed, the Desert Rock Power Plant will cover 600 acres in the largest American Indian reservation in the nation, and it will be the third coal-fired plant on Navajo land.
The protesters have been camped at the site since Dec. 12, and are demanding that officials show them the permits required to begin survey work for an environmental impact statement. Work on the site has been halted since the blockade began.
This week, Dine Power Authority officials requested a restraining order from the district court to remove the 10 protesters gathered there, claiming that they are slowing progress on the facility. But as of last night at least, no one had been arrested. But reports from the scene indicate that police are attempting to stop the blockade by intimidating protesters, according to an email dispatch yesterday from Mike Ewell of the Energy Justice Network:
Based on my conversations with some of those on the ground, it appears that police dismantled the camp site and dispersed the protesters’ personal belonging along the road. They wouldn’t let elders use the bathroom or eat or allow any wood hauling. They even threatened arrest if they left the site to use the bathroom and are refusing to let them use port-a-potties that they paid for (there are no convenient places to go to the bathroom). A local family was even told that they cannot return to their own land where they live and that their land belongs to BHP (a big coal company).
Najavo Nation elected officials are largely in support of the plant, claiming that it will bring jobs and tax revenue to the poverty-stricken nation. Many Navajo live without running water or electricity, and tribal leaders see the plant as a financial gain toward new development. But the protesters say the plant will destroy sacred land and pollute the air.
“We have to have respect for the Earth; we have to have respect for every living thing…. Our people know that and understand that,” Ann Frazier of the Navajo group Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (CARE) told the press. “So for these big companies to come in and do this, and our tribal leaders allowing them to do that, is against the belief of the people.”
Others say the plant will not bring the infrastructure development needed on the nation. The plants owners will get the bulk of the profits, and residents will see little of the power generated there, protesters say.
“Why do we have to give all of that [land] to a power plant?” said Dailan Long, who resides near the proposed plant site. “It doesn’t make sense that we get the pollution, and they get the power.”