After reading Senator Campbell's recent article titled "The truth about the Indian energy bill" in your paper defending his Indian energy bill, I feel compelled to write a response. His article is only a partial truth, and a biased one at that. Here is my, admittedly biased, view of the Indian energy bill. My biases are as follows: I grew up living on the Navajo and several other reservations have seen the results of uranium and coal mining, and work in the energy efficiency industry.
I think the bill Senator Campbell is proposing will continue our country's sad habit of exploiting Native American resources for the benefit of non-Natives. In the 1800s the Lakota were pushed out of the Black Hills to allow gold miners to stake claims, and the Lakota suffered the loss of lands sacred to them. In the 1900s during the cold war, the Navajo reservation was mined for uranium to produce nuclear weapons. While this may have contributed to our national security (although I doubt the USSR had many nukes pointed at Window Rock), the Navajos were left with lung cancer and slag piles surrounded by chain link fences.
This exploitation continues today with coal strip mining. The coal mined from the Navajo Reservation is primarily used to produce power for large urban areas, including Los Angeles and Phoenix. However it is the Navajos and Hopis who are left with lowered water tables as wells are used to supply coal slurry to a power plant in Laughlin, Nev. It is the Navajos whose sky is covered by the smoke from the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Ariz. It is the Navajo's and Hopi's sacred land that is scarred by the effects of strip mining.
Although I agree that tribes should have the right to determine whether or not to utilize there mineral resources, I do not believe that they should feel they need to do so in order to maintain financial stability. My questions is do you think that the Navajo and Hopi tribal governments would continue to allow mining of tribal land if they had another method of funding their operations that did not dig up the ground? If so, would the tribal members agree with such a plan? I think not. We need to look at other sources of renewable income such as arts, tourism, gaming, etc. Then we need to learn how to keep money invested in the tribes, instead of just flowing out to border town stores. That is how you promote tribal sovereignty.
Our federal government needs to rethink how it will continue to provide energy for our growing nation. Are we going to continue to exploit limited natural resources? We have another option. We can learn to better use what we already have. Working in the energy industry, I have seen the waste of electricity by industries who do not have the motivation to use energy more efficiently. I have also seen the improvement that results from forward thinking energy policy (I am not speaking of deregulation, rather I mean energy efficiency regulation, i.e. Title 24) as has been implemented in California. The result: California's energy has the fourth lowest per capita energy consumption in the nation (Texas has the highest, Source: Department of Energy/Energy Information Administration). Statistics show that California's model works. California is leading the nation in requiring more efficient cars, air conditioners, and other energy consuming appliances. How do you make efficiency more affordable? You apply it on a mass scale.
Senator Campbell is in a unique position to affect the energy usage in the country. The next step is consumer education. I hope he chooses wisely. Energy efficiency policy will allow our economy to continue to grow while protecting our air, water, and the tribal lands that we hold sacred.
Tsosie Reyhner, Navajo, is an energy efficiency engineer.