Energy

Arizona Tribe Wants Trump’s Help Saving State’s Coal Plant

An American Indian tribe is pleading with President Donald Trump to save an Arizona-based coal-fired power plant scheduled to close in 2019.

The president of the Navajo Nation said his tribe opposes the closure of the Navajo Generating Station, one of the largest coal plants in the country. Majority owners are shuttering the plant, they argue, because it is more economic to buy natural-gas-fired electricity.

Russell Begaye, who acts as the tribe’s president, said he has been in continual talks with White House officials since the inauguration about keeping the coal plant open. His tribe opposes the plant’s closure and the nearly 1,000 jobs it provides.

“We are going to seek a solution based on what we feel needs to be done,” Mr. Begaye told reporters Thursday. “Tax breaks, subsidies, a real strong verbiage from the White House, from President Trump himself.”

Analysts argue coal is getting pounded by market forces, not governmental regulations. If Trump intends on following through on his campaign pledges to save Coal Country, they say, then he would be flailing away against a market where natural gas is flogging coal.

“The reason we’ve had such a decline in coal? It’s not the regulations. It’s natural gas,” said Hans Daniels, chief executive of Doyle Trading Consultants. “If you are in the water and you’re being attacked by sharks, you’re not going to worry about being stung by jellyfish.”

More than 246 coal plants have been shut down in the U.S. since 2013, according to data from the Energy Information Administration — during that four-year period, 305 natural gas plants have opened.

The coal industry regained some of its lost ground as natural gas prices have come back down to Earth. Oil prices increased during the latter half of 2016, helping coal power plants gain a foothold on the market.

Still, Begaye is worried prices won’t rebound to their previous highs.

He has asked the Trump administration to take measures to prop up the plant, as well as help the Navajo Nation develop natural gas generators and solar panels on tribal land.

Trump’s advisers, meanwhile, have suggested transferring large chunks of federalized land back to tribes, so they can drill or mine on their own lands. the advisers told Reuters.

“We should take tribal land away from public treatment,” Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin, a Cherokee tribe member who co-chairs Trump’s Native American Affairs Coalition, told reporters in December.

The move to divest federalized land might help repair strained ties between Trump and Indian American tribes like the Navajo Nation, which is begging the president to whisk away regulations preventing it from developing energy.

Western tribes see Trump as stone-eared on American Indian issues.

Standing Rock Sioux, one of the tribes opposing the highly contentious Dakota Access Pipeline, threatened to sue the White House for violating the tribe’s treaty rights after he signed orders approving the controversial oil project.

“President Trump is legally required to honor our treaty rights and provide a fair and reasonable pipeline process,” Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, told reporters after the news broke. He called the action “politically motivated.”

Standing Rock and environmentalists believe the line’s construction would trample on tribal lands and potentially poison waterways, including rivers such as the Missouri River and Lake Oahe.

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