Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Web of Values

That heading is a play off of the title of Fritjof Capra's book, The Web of Life which has greatly influenced my thinking about the reasons things are the way that they are. The rest of this is to point out the interconnections that have far reaching effects about which we know little.

I was introduced to the question of water availability on the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona because I was tracking what the Resources Committee of the House of Representatives was doing about water. Most of the story and it's political connections is posted at PomboWatch. It is enough to say that the Peabody Coal operations at Black Mesa were draining the aquifer under the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. It had gotten to the point that the Hopi were having to truck in drinking water. Having been to the Hopi Reservation, I know how much that must cost just for transportation.

The Peabody Coal operations have been shut down. The reason? They lost their major customer, Southern California Edison's Mojave Power Plant, Laughlin, NV. At the end of 2005, SC Edison followed a court order to shut down the plant, a major source of air pollution. This plant had produced 7% of the electricity used by the utility, much of that used to pump water into the Los Angeles area.

You might think that everyone would be happy. The fact is, they were not. There are many problems left behind as SC Edison and Peabody walk away from the situation. While using up the aquifer, the Black Mesa mine was a source of reservation jobs and of royalty income for the tribes. The Navajo and Hopi are two tribes that have not deemed it necessary to go into gaming to resolve their economic difficulties.

One of the players in this has been the Sierra Club. They were a party to the law suit that was intended to stop the air pollution problems from the Mojave Plant. I have been critical of the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations for taking such action and then walking away themselves. In this case, the Sierra Club has gone further. I quote from Carl Pope's blog of Jan. 13, 2006.

And state leadership and initiative do not necessarily have to stay within state boundaries. Earlier this month, Southern California Edison shut down its Mojave Power plant, rather than clean it up as it had been mandated to do in a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups. By shutting down, Edison got the right to sell its "pollution credits" for the air pollution it will no longer be emitting. But the company is also eliminating a large number of jobs on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona where the coal for the plant was being mined. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups, working with leaders of the Navajo and Hopi, have advocated a creative funding mechanism for ensuring a "Just Transition" that would help create new, clean energy jobs on the reservations to replace the jobs lost when Mojave shut down. In this proposal, $40 million a year would flow from Edison to the tribes.

"It's wrong to allow [Edison] to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in new, unearned revenues from the sale of sulfur allowances," said Leonard Selestewa, a Hopi with a group called the Black Mesa Trust. "Millions of people have benefited from Mojave; now it's our turn."

PUC President Michael Peevey, who met with Selestewa and other coalition members, said he was sympathetic with the tribes' grievances.

"We've never been confronted with anything like this," he said.

See what's happening here? California is seriously considering helping to remedy injustices done years ago under federal license in another state to Indian tribes in a way that would help accelerate the transition to new energy solutions. And yet the federal government is utterly unwilling to embrace any of these goals.

The Green Party and it's candidates traditionally advocate for Green energy solutions. But, it has to be done in a way that makes things work for all. I was please to see that Kent Mesplay's opening comments about his campaign includes statements on both the need for renewable energy solutions and to "Stand up for Native American rights and sovereignty issues." They are connected.

It is all connected in one big web of life and we need to have answers from a connected web of values. Sometimes, in pushing only for incomplete solutions we become part of the bigger problem.

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