Several times over the last six months or so I have used this space to discuss Navajo Generating Station and the Navajo Nation government’s response to the eventual closure of the plant.
I made my thoughts known then based on what I had heard or read about decisions made by the Navajo Nation Council. But it wasn’t until last week until I actually saw them in action.
While the Navajo Nation was debating whether to accept a lease replacement for NGS, I and several other Page residents spent hours watching the debate. The council debated the issue for eight hours. I probably watched a third of it.
And frankly I was pretty impressed.
I certainly didn’t agree with everything the council members said, but it is hard to argue that the 24 elected representatives weren’t taking the decision seriously. It was clear for some of them the decision was not easy.
The hardest debate was on an amendment that would have put Navajo Nation law and Navajo Nation courts as the sole legal force if any issues went to court. The owners of NGS were very clear — if the amendment passed it was a deal killer and would have led to NGS closing almost immediately.
I get that. There are two key things that would force the owners to take that stance. One, certain elements that could be litigated are not covered in Navajo Nation law. Second, realistically if a case went to a Navajo Nation court, could SRP and the other owners expect a chance to win?
Even with that, the debate was enlightening. My wife sat and watched a lot of it with me because it was really interesting. The two sides were kind of broken down like this — those who felt any decision by the Navajo Nation Council should embrace Navajo sovereignty and Navajo law and those who wanted to keep the lease alive.
Since I have publicly supported the NGS extension all along, I sided with the group that wanted to keep the lease possibility open. But much of the group who sided with the Navajo law was actually very convincing. It was a lively and fun debate.
In the end, the amendment failed 16-6 and the lease replacement was approved 18-4. That means two of the councilors voted for the amendment and for the lease.
A couple of things I learned about the Navajo Nation Council:
1 – The council members take their jobs seriously.
2 – Even in contentious issues like NGS, the debate was respectful.
3 – The council rules give every member an opportunity to speak equally on issues, and most members take every second.
4 – The council members care about the Navajo Nation and they discussed big issues, many that need to be discussed in greater detail in the future.
Ultimately despite the disagreement from environmental groups, the fact that NGS is staying open for 18 more months is good news for Page and good news for the Navajo Nation. While the Navajo Nation will get hundreds of millions of dollars, that is not the key in my mind.
As a tribe, the Navajo Nation has 40 percent unemployment. The hundreds of direct jobs and possibly 3,000 indirect jobs that were saved is a huge deal. In two years, NGS will be closed. In four years, there will be few signs it was ever here. The environment will ultimately win.
But this week, this month, the Navajo people who rely on NGS to pay their bills are the winners. And that’s why the council got this decision right.