Two related appellate decisions upheld a federal decision to allow phase-out of the largest coal-fired power plant in the west in 2044, over objections of Arizona’s Hopi Tribe, which receives coal royalties.
The Hopi Tribe and environmental groups, for competing reasons, challenged an Environmental Protection Agency decision to allow the Navajo Generating Station 27 years to phase out coal burning.
Environmentalists argued the plan wasn’t stringent enough because of the haze the plant produces over the region,that hinders the views of the Grand Canyon.
The Hopi receive royalties on the coal used in the plant and challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA), failure to include the Hopi in a working group that developed the rule governing clean air requirements on tribal land.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the Hopi Tribe’s exclusion from the Technical Working Group did not violate the government’s duty to consult with the tribe. The panel said the record indicated the EPA did consult with the Hopi Tribe during the rulemaking process.
The power station is a major source of emissions that hampers views of the Grand Canyon and produces a haze, resulting in a plan to retrofit the plant and reduce the coal pollution, the court said.
The plant also powers an Arizona water distribution system that supplies 20 percent of the water to the state of Arizona.
In 2014, the EPA issued a final rule for the Navajo Generating Station after a five year review process that begin in 2009 and included consultation with Hopi Tribal representatives.
The tribe opposed the plan to phase out the plant as part of a program to comply with the Clean Air Act, the court said.
It noted that 50 percent of the Hopi people on the Hopi Reservation live in poverty and the unemployment rate there is about 50 percent. Roughly 35 percent of the homes lack a complete kitchen. The tribal members are 40 percent more likely to lack running water than other Americans. And the power plant provides 1,400 to 1,900 Hopi jobs, about 50 to 70 percent of all jobs on the Hopi Reservation.
The court nonetheless found the requirement of consultation between the tribe and federal government was met, even if the tribe was not included in a special committee reviewing the plant phase-out.
It also rejected the tribal argument that the law governing the relations between the U.S. and sovereign tribal nations required that the tribe’s best interest take precedence over the Clean Air Act.
Case: Hopi Tribe v. EPA, No. 14-73055
Yazzie v. EPA, No. 14-73100