Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai

Supporting contributors

Sen. Victoria Steele
Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales
Rep. Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren
Rep. Myron Tsosie
Rep. Jennifer Jermaine

It is undeniable that we are now experiencing the consequences of climate change and that tribal communities will be one of the hardest-hit unless Congress passes the ”Build Back Better” budget reconciliation package.

Tribal treaty obligations insist that Congress consider the long-term climate change implications and impacts on tribal communities.

The “Build Back Better” package includes expanded clean energy, water and other climate priorities that are not part of the bipartisan infrastructure plan.

While the bipartisan infrastructure plan includes important broadband, energy and infrastructure improvements, it doesn’t go nearly far enough to protect us.

Infrastructure is so much more than bricks and mortar. It is important that legislation that recognizes the tribal priorities in the “Build Back Better” agenda be quickly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. This is our once-in-a-generation chance to protect our communities and treasured lands against the climate crisis.

Specifically, Congress must make significant investments in workforce development programs for tribes and underserved communities to build back better with career paths that keep students in their communities, pay consistent with industry standards, and help them address the accessibility issues facing their communities.

Building back better for Arizona’s tribal nations means providing access to resources and increasing funding to support the development of critical water infrastructure for tribal communities.

Researchers with the U.S. Water Alliance and DigDeep found that race is the "strongest predictor" of water access and that Native households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack complete plumbing.

Arizona has $232 million in construction-ready water projects, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Investments in new water systems can bring tremendous benefits to the Navajo Nation, where only one in three homes has running water.

The climate crisis has brought unprecedented fires, drought, water shortages and extreme heat. Without action, things will only get worse.

We need provisions that give tribal communities transition and relocation assistance for our members most vulnerable to the climate-driven displacement that comes from the rapidly changing climate.

With the current discussions in Congress, we also need Arizona leaders focused on plugging orphan wells and abandoned mines, many of which are located on tribal lands and in rural communities. They pose serious safety hazards and cause ongoing air and water contamination and other environmental damage that has been ignored for far too long.

In addition, expanded clean energy incentives and production that bring important benefits back to the tribes themselves are critical priorities for Arizona tribes.

It is estimated that 75 percent of U.S. homes without electricity are located on the Navajo Nation.

In March 2021, the Navajo Nation solidified leases for two new solar plants on the reservation, which can start to help power some of these homes. The plants are expected to bring in $90 million in energy transmission payments, $13 million in land lease payments, and $6 million in tax revenue for the tribe, as well as power.

Some of the income will go toward connecting more Navajo homes to the power grid and keeping rates down for tribal customers, according to the tribal utility. But more needs to be done.

Native Americans are the original stewards of lands, waters, skies and all living things, and are the most vulnerable communities when it comes to the effects of climate change.

Having Secretary Deb Haaland’s leadership at the Department of the Interior is a long-overdue opportunity, along with the Biden administration’s commitment to a government-wide approach to climate change where social and environmental justice investments like resiliency, adaptation and workforce development go hand-in-hand for the betterment of the tribes and all underserved populations around the country.

That includes the current infrastructure-clean energy discussions now underway with the bipartisan and Build Back Better plans.

It’s time for Congress to act now and prioritize tribal communities to bridge gaps so that our treasured lands can be a place where families and small businesses can thrive for generations to come.

Critical climate change provisions must be part of comprehensive infrastructure plans being considered now in Washington.

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