June 19, 2008
Tribes Building New Coal Plants
"As the nation searches for new sources of energy, tribes are at a crossroads," Climate Wire reported today. "They hold 30 percent of the nation's coal reserves and have an abundant supply of oil and natural gas, but also face a growing climate change movement determined to stop development of fossil fuels and spur renewable energy."
Last week, the Crow Nation announced plans to build a coal-to-liquids plant in Montana that may provide fuel for the Air Force. That followed news of a potential coal-fired power plant on Navajo Nation land in New Mexico.
Now, as many as six coal projects, including some that would produce liquid fuel, are "under consideration" in Montana either on reservations or in nearby locations that could make use of tribal labor and resources, according to Chantel McCormick, an energy development officer for the state. Her remarks echoed a Bush administration official who said Tuesday that several tribes had "expressed interest" recently in building plants that convert coal to diesel or jet fuel.
"With an upswing in energy prices, tribes are looking at their resources more and hearing from industry wanting to work on reservation land," said Robert Middleton, director of the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development at the Interior Department."
Groups like Energy Action Coalition have long argued (EAC statement of environmental justice principles) that tribes are some of the greatest victims to climate change, oil drilling, and coal mining. As the article reports:
All of this rhetoric is angering environmental advocates on and off tribal lands, who say that tribes already are experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change -- ranging from water-saturated Alaskan villages to drought-stricken reservations dependent on water and fish -- and that fossil fuel development will make matters worse.
"There's a rift between some tribal leaders who see hope in oil, gas and coal and people who think energy companies are taking advantage of people who are eager for money, " said Kandi Mossett, a campus "climate campaigner" for the Indigenous Environmental Network trying to get tribal colleges to cut their emissions.
But the Climate Wire article points out that a large part of tribal decisions has to do with their poor socioeconomic positions and the possibility of new jobs and a revitalized local economy:
Their ultimate energy path depends on the fate of financial incentives, government bureaucracy, decisions by tribal leaders and the willingness of companies to offer a good deal to sovereign nations often struggling with high unemployment and lack of infrastructure...
In a statement on July 31, Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. made no secret of the fact that the $3 billion coal-fired generator would bring a jobs boom to the reservation and help the tribe stand on its own financially. The Navajo also are looking to build a 500-megawatt wind farm.
The $7 billion Many Stars Plant on the Crow Nation, slated to open in 2016, initially will produce 50,000 barrels of fuel and create 4,000 construction jobs on the reservation, which has 47 percent unemployment. The Australian-American Energy Co., a partner in the project, plans to assist a tribal college with educational programs.
"We made a decision to pursue this type of clean-coal project because it provides long-term economic and social benefits for our people for many generations to come," said Crow Chairman Carl Venne.