Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some Navajos want to move away from coal and toward greener future

Coal has long been a fixture on Navajo reservations, but some Navajos are hoping to move away from the fossil fuel toward a clean-energy future. "Seeking to reverse years of environmental degradation and return to their traditional values, many Navajos are calling for a future built instead on solar farms, ecotourism and microbusinesses," Mireya Navarro of The New York Times reports. Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official, is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election and has become the face of the new movement. (NYT map)

Tulley "represents a growing movement among Navajos that embraces environmental healing and greater reliance on the sun and wind, abundant resources on a 17 million-acre reservation spanning Arizona, New Mexico and Utah," Navarro writes. At 300,000 members, the Navajo Nation is the country's largest tribe and has the largest reservation. "Coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the reservation and on lands shared with the Hopi provide about 1,500 jobs and more than a third of the tribe’s annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes," Navarro writes.

Some spiritual guides say Navajo culture equates extracting coal and other natural resources with cutting skin, representing a betrayal of a duty to protect the land, Navarro reports. Still most of the shift is spurred by economic considerations, as "tribal leaders say the Navajo Nation’s income from coal has dwindled 15 percent to 20 percent in recent years as federal and state pollution regulations have imposed costly restrictions and lessened the demand for mining," Navarro writes. Tulley explained, "At some point we have to wean ourselves," adding, "We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development." (Read more)

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