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Cleaning Up King Coal? Tribes Appeal Tighter Restrictions on Power Plant Emissions

Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona

“Coal: it’s the safest energy there is.”

So reads the slogan for a parody web site aimed at Peabody Energy, which operates Arizona’s coal-mining company, the Kayenta Mine, on Navajo and Hopi lands. The satirical site (, launched in early May by the organization Coal Kills Kids, appears to offer free “Puff-Puff” inhalers to families who live within 200 miles of a coal plant, reported the Los Angeles Times, along with coupons worth $10 toward the purchase of asthma medication. There’s even a F.A.Q. and Media page, plus fun games in the “Kidz Koal Korner.”

But the parody conceals a major health dilemma, with millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs at stake.

Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal-producing company, supplies the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently considering whether to require the plant’s operators, the Salt River Project (SRP), to spend $1.1 billion on scrubbers to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and clear the smog cloud hovering above northern Arizona, reported the Navajo Times. SRP has threatened a shutdown if the EPA forces such action.

That’s bad news for SRP’s allies—the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe and Gila River Indian Community. At an EPA hearing on May 24, tribal leaders testified that closing the coal-fired power plant would cripple their communities, eliminate 1,000 jobs and threaten water rights settlements, reported the Associated Press. The Navajo Generating Station and the Kayenta Mine provide about $140 million in revenue and wages to the Navajo Nation; The Hopi Tribe gets $13 million for its coal and water.

But according to Navajo environmental groups—the Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, the Black Mesa Water Coalition and To Nizhóní Ání (Beautiful Water Speaks)—heavy pollution from the plant causes high rates of asthma and respiratory infections in the area. “Among all industrial sources of air pollution, none poses greater risks to human health and the environment than coal-fired power plants,” concluded a September 2010 report by the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, reported Wired magazine.

Since 2008, Peabody has spent about $6.9 million on lobbying, much of it against pollution reform, Wired said.

The EPA is expected to release its proposal on pollution controls this summer and implement a rule next year. Controls would be effective for five years; the SRP wants to continue running the Navajo Generating Station until the year 2044.

“The EPA estimated last year that the Clean Air Act—and this is fundamentally what we’re talking about—had saved 160,000 lives,” Janice Nolen, a policy expert at the American Lung Association, told Wired magazine. “We’ve seen this law work to save lives. We have an opportunity now to continue that.”

With bitter irony, Coal Kills Kids is cointuing to rail against the health hazards caused by coal plant emissions.

“Some environmentalists have suggested that coal companies should install an untested technology called ‘scrubbers’ atop coal plants to make them burn more cleanly, reducing coal particulate exposure as one cause of childhood asthma,” reads their mock site. “For our part, Peabody has decided that reducing Asthma-Related Bullying (ARB) is the single most effective way to combat public misperceptions of our industry.”


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Cleaning Up King Coal? Tribes Appeal Tighter Restrictions on Power Plant Emissions