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Arizona Navajo, Hopi See 800 Jobs at Risk in Looming Coal Plant Closure

In the absence of a “unicorn energy company dropping in,” the biggest coal-fired generating station in the western United States is set to go offline in 2019 due to price pressures from natural gas, prompting concern for the 800 jobs and tribal royalties that nearby Navajo and Hopi communities will lose as a result.

So far there are no publicly identified potential buyers for the coal plant,” owned by the SRP power company and four partners, so the shutdown process for the plant is beginning, the Arizona Republic reports. That will force the Kayenta Mine to close, as well.

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The plant “has proved a flashpoint for national and regional energy policy and raised larger questions on how Native communities will handle ties to fossil fuel industries as the economy changes,” Climate Nexus notes.

“I understand, we understand, you understand the challenges,” Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates told a group of 200 protesters at the Arizona state capitol Tuesday. “There’s your jobs, the revenue, the economy, the water, but it goes beyond that.” If the power plant shuts down, “those jobs are going to be very hard to replace.”

“The Navajo Nation really didn’t get its fair share out of those operations,” countered Navajo solar entrepreneur Brett Isaac. “It tied us to those jobs and didn’t allow us to diversify.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has expressed support for the plant, and some speakers at the rally called on the Trump administration to help keep it open. But so far, “we haven’t gotten any indication the government is going to fund that kind of infrastructure investment,” said SRP President David Rousseau.

The coal plant provides steady employment for nearby Native American communities and funds public services. But it also leads them to lean heavily on the mining industry and takes a toll on people’s health,” Grist notes. “As natural gas prices fell over the years, the coal plant has struggled to stay in the black.”