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L.A.'s Dirty Coal Addiction Is Killing Arizona

A large percentage of the power Angelenos depend on comes from coal plants, which spew their filth hundreds of miles away, across state lines in Indian country.
 
 
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When one thinks of coal country, Los Angeles is probably not what immediately comes to mind. Appalachia and the Powder River Basin, sure, but not this sun-drenched stretch of coastline. Not highbrow Brentwood or the mansion-lined streets of Beverly Hills. Not star-studded Hollywood or the surf breaks of Santa Monica. Not here, in the heart of it all.  

In part this an accurate assessment. California as a whole has no active coal mines and only a handful of small coal-fired power plants. L.A.'s infamous smog isn't generated from dirty coal plants nearby, nor is the pollution that hugs up against the San Gabriel Mountains the result of burning coal. Nonetheless, a large percentage of the power Angelenos depend on to run their air conditioners and light their buildings comes from coal plants -- plants that spew their filth hundreds of miles away, across state lines in Indian country. This filth is all out of sight and out of mind for most who call L.A. home.  

While California is often cited as one of the most energy efficient states in the country, coal still plays a large role in producing energy for the state. When in-state generation, (some 461 MW) is added to out-of-state coal-based electricity (approximately 3,500 MW) California ranks 28th in the United States in coal-fired power generation. Nearly all of this electricity generated by coal ends up in the southern half of the state.  

L.A., as you may have guessed, is no small energy market. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which derives 44 percent of its power from coal, boasts of a customer base of over 1.37 million households. Two massive generating stations serve LADWP's needs, the Navajo Generating Station and Intermountain Power Station, in Arizona and Utah respectively.  

Environmentalists and others have long criticized the Navajo Generating Station for polluting communities near the plant, which are largely made up of people from the Navajo Nation. Annually, the plant spews more than 19 million tons of carbon dioxide and acording to the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit research organization, the plant is responsible for 16 deaths per year due to its fine particle pollution. This dust-size pollution is made of up a complex mixture of soot, heavy metals, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. It is a nasty mix of toxins that causes severe asthma and even cancer.  

Navajo Nation is massive, encompassing all of northeastern Arizona, a southeastern chunk of Utah as well as northwestern New Mexico. It's the largest reservation in the United States and has a population of 300,000 people. Coal mining operations and power plants on these lands, which includes an area shared with the Hopi, accounts for 1,500 jobs, a total of one-third of the tribe's annual operating budget.  

Since 2005 two coal mines on the reservation have been shut down, including the one that fed the Black Mesa power station, which halted operations when the nearby Mojave Generating Station ceased. Such strides have given hope to many fighting coal in these all-but-forgotten areas.  

"It's a new day for the Navajo people," says Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE), a group founded 22 years ago. "We can't be trashing the land anymore."  

On December 2, 16 people were arrested in Tempe, Arizona for protesting outside the offices of the Salt River Project (SRP) the managing partner of the Navajo plant. The protest was one of several that took place across the state targeting the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a nonprofit made up of corporations and state politicians around the country who vote in private on "model bills" that benefit the very corporations that support the organization. SRP is a member of ALEC and also holds a seat on its corporate board.  

 
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