Published on September 11th, 2018 | by Cynthia Shahan0
Navajo Group Travels To NYC To Protest Private Equity Firm Takeover Of Largest Coal Plant In Western US
September 11th, 2018 by Cynthia Shahan
CleanTechnica received the following email press release from Refugio Mata yesterday morning. In the afternoon, I had the fortune of speaking to Nicole Horseherder, Executive Director of the Navajo environmental group To Nizhoni Ani. Nicole says the coal plant they are protesting has led to air and water pollution as well as health consequences for her neighbors.
Immediately after the protest in the afternoon, Nicole spoke with me and relayed more details. Her thoughts and words are transcribed verbatim below the following press release.
Navajos/Hopi Youth & Elders Travel to NYC to Protest Avenue Capital
New York City, NY — This morning, more than a dozen Navajos — traveling over 2,000 miles from their homeland in northern Arizona — gathered in the rain outside Avenue Capital’s headquarters in Midtown Manhattan to demonstrate their opposition to the firm’s efforts to purchase the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), the largest coal plant in the western U.S. Twice this summer, Navajo NGOs shared their concerns in letters (May 8 and June 8) to Avenue Capital CEO Mark Lasry with invites to visit them, but they have not received a response.
The current owners of NGS are exiting the coal plant in 2019 because cheaper and cleaner energy resources are now available. However, Lasry, a top Democratic donor, is now aligning with the Trump Administration in its efforts to keep the costly coal plant operating.
Nicholas Ashley, Tó Nizhóní Ání Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Coordinator, issued the following statement:
“Our very existence is bound to the fate of our land, water, and air. The financial capital of the world needs to know that Diné people will no longer be putting our bodies and our homelands on the line for multinational corporations.”
Previously, Nicholas Ashley expressed, “I have family members who have died and others who have been injured from on-site accidents in extractive industries. I am going to New York City to let the financial capital of the world know that Diné people will no longer be putting our bodies and our homelands on the line for multinational corporations. As Diné people, our identity, our very existence, is bound to the fate of our land, water and air. My daughter is my motivation. Her future on this land is worth fighting for. ( — Nicholas Ashley, 24, Tó Nizhóní Ání Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona Coordinator, Big Mountain)
Rene Simonson, a 19-year-old student from Big Mountain issued the following statement:
“The entire world is moving toward renewable energy and the Navajo Nation will be left out. I am the new generation from Black Mesa. My vision is to see my Navajo people have economic opportunities that do not destroy our culture and language.”
The current operator of NGS (Navajo Generating Station) suggests keeping the coal plant open past 2019 will result in losses exceeding $130 million annually, so Avenue Capital can likely only profit through some combination of federal subsidies and cuts to jobs, health and safety protections, or revenues to the Navajo Nation. Continued operation of the coal plant will also disrupt the Navajo Nation’s blossoming clean energy transition and wipe out existing agreements for land reclamation and water restoration. Operations at NGS have destroyed Navajo land, drained precious water resources, and polluted skies across the region for nearly five decades.
I spoke with Nicole Horseherder a few hours ago. Her spirited voice explained more of the protest. She also reported intelligent insights into what they are up against:
“In this day and age if you look at what’s happening today, I mean, you’ve got the highest office in the United States government pushing to continue coal and promising to help the coal companies come back. Right. Even though he knows this can’t happen. He knows that people don’t want coal, people don’t want energy from coal anymore. People want to buy something cleaner, they want to buy something cheaper of course — and this is not coal anymore. Today we’re not only up against the president of the United States, today we are up against powerful companies. This is like fossil fuels’ last push, to make something out of a dying industry — the last hurrah.
“Today we have all the expertise in the world. We have economists and all kinds of financial experts and they’re telling us this is not viable anymore. Which is why the current utilities companies who own and run the plant are getting out. But look at that. Look at what’s happening. We’ve got experts saying don’t do it. There’s no more profit left in this. Yet, here we are today. We were just on 399 Park Avenue this morning at the building where Avenue Capital is housed. And who has he got all up and down the street from him — all kinds of financial experts and yet he is negotiating right now to buy the NGS. Right! So that is what we are dealing with.
“So Avenue Capital is now in negotiations with the Navajo Nation but there is an important key figure in there that people are overlooking and that’s Peabody Energy. And Peabody Energy I do know is powerful around the globe. I mean, If you ever talk to anybody who knows the inside tactics and strategies that these guys use to get what they want. It’s pretty aggressive the way these guys work.
“Look what they just did. They announced bankruptcy a couple years ago. Then the minute that they let all their liabilities go they came out of bankruptcy. That’s how aggressive these guys are.”
Nicole spoke to the public news service as well. “I think it’s important for people out there to know that the type of jobs and the type of revenue we need is one that doesn’t kill people and doesn’t kill the environment,” she told them. “So to those people that are concerned about the jobs and revenues, we are also concerned.”
The caution of Nicole Horseherder’s work suggests that old saying, “don’t eat your seed corn.” The chance for economic and ecological improvement — without eating “the seed corn” — is there. The time for renewable energy jobs and energy on Navajo lands is now.