Federal Regulators Reject Energy Projects on Navajo Land

The decision signals a new policy that respects tribal sovereignty and requires collaboration with local tribes.

1 minute read

February 22, 2024, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Black Mesa, Navajo Nation

David Wilson from Oak Park, Illinois, USA, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons / Black Mesa, Navajo Nation

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected seven hydropower energy storage projects proposed on Navajo Nation land, signaling a shift in policy at the agency that takes into account opposition by local tribes.

As Jonathan P. Thompson explains in The Land Desk, “The projects would have been located on Black Mesa, a significant landform on Navajo and Hopi land that was torn apart by intensive surface coal mining for over a half century.” The projects, which would require the construction of two new dams, would use water from a local aquifer already strained by mining and growing populations.

“The prospect of such impacts drew opposition from Tó Nizhóní Ání, Diné CARE, Grand Canyon Trust, and other land and water protectors. The Navajo Nation joined them, telling regulators the projects could impact its water rights, natural resources, endangered species, and cultural resources.”

Acknowledging tribal sovereignty, FERC’s new policy states, “the Commission will not issue preliminary permits for projects proposing to use Tribal lands if the Tribe on whose lands the project is to be located opposes the permit.”

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