Trump officials meet with tribal leaders to save coal plant

Trump officials meet with tribal leaders to save coal plant
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Trump administration officials met with Navajo Nation and Hopi leaders Wednesday to discuss what the government could do to stop a major coal plant on the Navajo reservation from closing.

The meeting at Interior Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., included Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior Dept recommends reducing Bears Ears, other protected land: report Give tribes real authority in Bears Ears National Monument Trump moving toward energy exploration in Arctic wildlife refuge: report MORE and officials from Interior and its Bureau of Reclamation, who have said that the Trump administration wants to save the coal-fired power plant from its planned closure by 2019, likely by finding a buyer.

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“We held extensive discussions regarding the ongoing operation of [the plant] through 2019 — with hopes of economically extending operations beyond 2019,” David Palumbo, deputy commissioner for operations at the Bureau of Reclamation, said in a statement.

“We maintain our commitment to support these productive and constructive talks and have proposed to participate in the coming weeks,” Palumbo said. “At the same time, we recognize this is a difficult task among the stakeholders and therefore are exploring ways to minimize negative impacts should the plant close.”

Zinke tweeted that he heard from stakeholders “about challenges & opportunities” for the plant and is “looking for solutions.”

Navajo President Russell Begaye said in his own statement that his tribe wants to keep the plant open until 2029. But if the plant must close before then, he’s asking Interior for access to the agency’s transmission lines to enable the tribe to generate wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

“To shut down prematurely will create a devastating impact for Navajo, as over 40 percent of our entire budget and infrastructure is tied to revenues generating from both [the plant] as well as the Kayenta mine,” he said.

The plant is on Navajo land. The tribe doesn’t own it, but it depends on it and the mine that fuels it for jobs and electricity.

The four utilities that own the facility voted recently to close the plant, saying it is no longer economical to operate.

The Bureau of Reclamation also has an ownership stake, and it uses the electricity to pump water in a nearby canal.

Interior’s interest in the Navajo plant also stems from its role overseeing American Indian tribal relations through the Bureau of Indian Affairs.