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Navajos look to reduce dependence on coal

Coal is the second largest source of income for the Navajo. But even as the tribe tries to increase revenue from coal and expand its market, a change may be coming.

The New York Times reports:

Earl Tulley, a Navajo housing official Mr. Tulley, who is running for vice president of the Navajo Nation in the Nov. 2 election, 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.

“We need to look at the bigger picture of sustainable development,” said Tulley, the first environmentalist to run on a Navajo presidential ticket.

A wind farm is planned near Flagstaff to power up to 20,000 homes, and last year the tribe created the Navajo Green Economy Commission to promote environmentally friendly jobs and businesses.

Health issues also have spurred the change. A report in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health found that a study Navajos near Shiprock, N.M., where coal use is abundant, are at risk of developing respiratory problems.

Over 130 homes in the Shiprock area were surveyed, and stoves in one-quarter of those homes were found to be inappropriate for coal combustion, even though residents there were burning coal. On the basis of spatial analysis of a robust set of hospital records data, residents of Shiprock and nearby communities appear to be at greater risk for respiratory disease than people in other communities not subject to thermal inversions, such as is typical for most of the Reservation. The presence of two large coal-fired power plants near Shiprock may contribute to that risk.

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Owners of the Black Mesa Mine closed it down rather than make improvements required by the EPA.

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