The four corners area of New Mexico—the only place in the United States where four states come together in one place—is one of the most impoverished areas in the country. The area, with the town of Farmington at its hub, is predominately Native American. The Native population struggles for the basic necessities of life. Many people have no electricity or running water. Access to health care and education is severely limited or non-existent.
The area is also marked with significant environmental degradation. The region is home to two enormous coal power
Now, transnational corporation Sithe Global Power wants to build another power plant in the area. Sithe is partnering with the local Navajo tribe’s Diné Power Authority to build yet another coal-fired power plant on tribal land.
According to desert-rock-blog.com, a blog designed by Navajo resident resisters, the Desert Rock Power Project would emit up to 13.7 million tons per year of carbon dioxide and up to 220 pounds per year of mercury and create huge amounts of coal combustion wastes. The wastes would be disposed of on site and would pollute the air, water and land.
Carbon dioxide emissions from the proposed Desert Rock plant would make it the seventh highest carbon dioxide emitter for coal fired power plants in the western United States.
On Dec. 12, Navajo elder Alice Gilmore, resident Elouise Brown and other people who oppose the plant confronted Desert Rock employees who were drilling without permission or even notification on land permitted to Gilmore for grazing purposes. Navajo elders from all the adjacent chapters of the area responded to this outrage, joining Gilmore in her fight.
Gilmore and the other resisters insisted that the company present documents proving that it had permission to drill there. The Desert Rock project is still in the environmental review process. At this stage, the Clean Air Act requires permits for drilling activity.
When company officials and tribal police refused to provide these documents, the people—comprised mostly of elderly women and their children—formed a blockade, denying passage down the road to the remote site.
At first, the company continued to refuse disclosure of permits. It resorted to terror tactics in an effort to rout the resisters. Desert Rock company vehicles repeatedly rushed residents who were camped out on the road. Gilmore’s sheepdog was skinned and run over twice; then thrown into a camp next to the resister’s blockade. Still the people held their ground.
Fed up with corporate greed
On Dec. 18, Sithe showed “official” documents to Doodá Desert Rock, one of the resister groups involved in the conflict. The documents included a permit for monitoring purposes only, as well as documents revealing that the Desert Rock Energy Company has agreed to pay a mere $2.70 per 1,000 gallons of water drawn from tribal lands.
The company has received permission from the Navajo Nation for a test well that will use up to 500 gallons per minute of a resource that many Navajos have to haul to their homes. Water is a rare and precious resource in New Mexico.
The Desert Rock resisters have had enough. “We’re fed up with them,” said Sarah J. White, president of the Doodá Desert Rock Committee. White stated, “The grandmas and the grandpas are being walked over by these monsters and they’re being denied information. We’re standing our ground now.”
Early in the morning, on Dec. 20, the resisters were served with motions for temporary restraining orders filed by Diné and Sithe.
A statement released by the two resister groups stated that the orders followed a threatening letter that Stephen Begay of Diné delivered to the resisters the previous day.
Many Navajos contend that the Navajo Nation tribal government has attempted to quash dissent about the Sithe project. The resisters and many others are upset at this pressure.
The resisters’ Dec. 20 statement said unequivocally that, despite being served, they will not stop opposing the project.
“Restraining orders are not going to stop us,” stated Lucy Willie, vice president of the Doodá Desert Rock Committee. “We’re here to stay.”
Diné’s and Sithe’s request for $7 million from the Navajo Nation for the controversial project was removed from the Tribal Council’s agenda for its Dec. 21 meeting. Elders at the blockade believe that this small victory is a positive sign for the coming period of struggle.
Standing in solidarity with our Native sisters and brothers is an essential task for revolutionaries and progressives in this country. The Navajo resisters and all people deserve the most basic elements of life: clean air, clean water and clean land.
Here are a few ways to assist the resisters in their just struggle:
(1) Join the blockade. The site is between Gallup and Shiprock, NM. Take the road between Gallup and Shiprock, the 491. At the Mustang Service Station, turn east on road #5 towards Burnham Chapter. From Burnham Chapter, turn North onto gravel road #5082. About 10-12 miles up the road, turn west until you see the encampment. There will be markers.
(2) Send donations of money for gas, food, firewood and bail money to local resident Elouise Brown, 1015 Glade Lane 34, Farmington, NM 87401, [email protected].
(3) Contact the media, tell them what is going on. Media contact: Lori Goodman, 970-759-1908 or [email protected].