WASHINGTON—Navajo Nation Council Delegate Paul Begay and Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development Director JT Willie met today with the Congressional Coal Caucus to discuss the economic impact of the closure of the Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta Mine.
The Navajo Nation has four coal mines including Black Mesa Mine and McKinley Mine, which are under reclamation; Navajo Mine, which will be active for the next 10 years and is operated by the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, a Navajo-owned enterprise and the Kayenta Mine, an active mine that is set to begin reclamation in December 2019.
Delegate Begay, who has worked in the energy industry for 18 years, including eight years as a communications specialist at NGS and previously as a journeyman boilermaker, now represents the five communities of Bodaway/Gap, Coppermine, K’ai’bii’tó, LeChee, and Tonalea located in the immediate vicinity of the NGS on the Navajo Nation Council.
“The Navajo economy has historically largely been based on the natural resources that bless our lands, which have provided for the essential governmental functions of our people. Our natural resources represent thousands of our Nation’s highest paying jobs in an economic environment plagued by 40 percent unemployment,” Delegate Begay said.
The NGS and Kayenta Mine, when operating at full capacity, together contribute approximately 20 percent of the Navajo Nation’s overall general revenues.
“In 2018, the Navajo Nation received approximately $31 million from coal royalties and lease payments from the NGS power plant,” Director Willie said.
“From public safety to elderly and childcare, school bus routes, roads, and scholarships, each of the Navajo Nation’s programs will receive a cut in their operating budgets as a result of the decrease in general fund revenues,” Delegate Begay said.
Delegate Begay said while these impacts are difficult for the Navajo Nation to contemplate, they are still not at the heart of what the Navajo Nation stands to lose as a Nation of people.
“Our resources empower our sovereign ability to care for our people the way that only we can,” stated Delegate Begay. “What does our sovereignty as a Nation of people mean without the ability to serve our people?”
The Navajo Nation has experienced several of its coal mines shutting down over the years – the latest being the McKinley Mine in 2009, located east of Window Rock, Arizona.
“We had promises from several organizations that said they would help us replace this lost revenue source with more green energy resources. Once the mine shut down, they disappeared and did not follow through with their promises,” Delegate Begay said.
The Navajo Nation Council is in the process of creating a Navajo Generating Station-Kayenta Mine transition task force.
The Navajo Nation is also reviewing Congressional legislative fixes and pursuing ideas on how to leverage workforce development to bring more jobs to the Navajo Nation.
Delegate Begay urged lawmakers on Capitol Hill for funding for infrastructure and workforce transition, and support for the creation of a Coal Reliant Communities Commission, similar to the Appalachia Regional Commission to redevelop the Navajo Nation economy.
Approximately 76,000 of the 180,000 individuals who reside on the Navajo Nation reservation are unemployed.
Combined, NGS and Kayenta Mine provide over 900 jobs. According to Peabody, in 2018, ninety-nine percent of the Kayenta Mine workforce was Native American. NGS and Kayenta mine salaries average over $96,000 annually.
“The Navajo Division of Economic Development estimates that the direct value of employment between the two operations is $128 million. It is undeniable that coal industry jobs have been a major source of income and in many cases, the only source of income for Navajo households,” Director Willie said.
The Navajo Nation is assessing how to leverage opportunity zones to attract outside investment for uranium mine clean-up efforts. The Navajo Nation has over 500 abandoned uranium mines that need to be cleaned up to provide more areas to conduct business on the Navajo Nation safely.
Director Willie said the Navajo Nation is interested in building a resilient workforce where the Navajo Nation will cross train its workforce so that they can quickly adapt and work in a variety of trades. “We are also re-envisioning the tourism industry where we hope to attract more vendors and attract entrepreneurs for small business development,” Director Willie said.
With firsthand knowledge of how the plant provided economic opportunity for his former colleagues, their families, and the surrounding communities, Delegate Begay told lawmakers it is hard to imagine a Navajo Nation that does not have NGS and Kayenta Mine operating and providing for the Navajo Nation and its people.
“Though, with the help of Congress, the states, and the Navajo people, I think the Navajo Nation’s next 50 years will be brighter than the last,” Delegate Begay said.
Delegate Begay and Director Willie will meet this week with administration officials at the U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of the Interior, and Congressional offices about economic development issues on the Navajo Nation.