11 Dec Where Four Corners Meet
One of the largest power plants in the United States, the coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant and associated coal mine, provides hundreds of jobs as well as revenue to the Navajo Nation, where the plant and mine are located. The power plant utility and the Navajo Nation have entered into a lease agreement to extend operation of the power plant for another 25 years, which would require expansion of the coal mine into adjacent areas to fuel the power plant. Communities depending on the power plant and coal mine for their livelihood are conflicted between keeping jobs and preserving the environment, and wish to address concerns related to public health, air quality, water quality, and agriculture and livestock. Environmental groups are calling for cleaner energy solutions to reduce pollution and replace the coal-fired power plant, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a rule to reduce the plant’s emissions.
The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which regulates coal mines and reclamation of lands, is developing an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the potential environmental impacts of the utility’s proposal. Katz & Associates was brought on board to develop and implement the public involvement strategy for this contentious project.
Challenges to public involvement included the need to reach tribal communities in their native languages using communication methods they are most accustomed to, including traditional media and oral translations. Cultural sensitivity training for staff was important in preparing for the public open house scoping meetings, where creating an environment of trust was essential to a meaningful public involvement process. K&A worked with a tribal consultant to develop public notices and informational materials in formats that would reach and engage the Navajo and Hopi communities, including placing public notices on the radio and developing a video that would provide an oral interpretation of the project. Interpreters were also available at the scoping meetings.
Nine scoping meetings were conducted in 10 days in the Four Corners region, including Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, and five of the nine scoping meetings were held on Navajo and Hopi reservations. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement received positive and encouraging support for initiating an EIS to address community concerns and providing the public an opportunity, through multiple scoping meetings and informational materials, to learn about the proposed project and provide comments. K&A also received high praise from clients, the Navajo Nation, regulatory agencies and community members for facilitating an effective scoping process for the agencies and public.