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Black Mesa Water Coalition resists coal, forges vision for climate justice

April 2013

On this Earth Day, I’m inspired to share a story of the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC). One of Grassroots International’s US allies, BMWC organizes in indigenous communities, going up against powerful corporate interests in the fossil fuel industry, and engaging in movement building toward a vision for a transition to an economically and ecologically just society. 

In the video below, several of the young people who co-founded and work with BMWC share the story of how it first came together to organize for water rights in Navajo (Diné) and Hopi communities in northern Arizona.      These Navajo and Hopi youth found out that coal mining companies like Peabody Coal had been drawing down 3,700-4,500 acre-feet of water per year since the early 1970s from their communities’ groundwater and aquifer, even though the Native communities themselves often did not have access to running water. One of BMWC’s young leaders, Nikke Alex, explained:   “In my community I grew up without running water – I grew up traveling 20 miles to haul water. That’s not fair that my communities are being sacrificed to power the valley, this big supermall down here…”   BMWC has achieved several impressive wins since its founding in 2001, including the shutdown of the Mohave Generating Station and the Black Mesa Mine, and passing legislation within the Navajo Nation tribal government to establish a Navajo Green Economy Fund and Commission.    Unlike the so-called “Green” Economy (termed the “Greed Economy” by impacted communities) being pushed by large transnational corporations that wish to profit from climate change through the privatization and financialization of natural resources, BMWC’s work is aimed at incubating a transition away from coal and toward local economies based on connection to community and respect for Mother Earth.  In particular, Black Mesa has launched a Just Transition agenda that includes converting the Navajo Generating Station from coal (supplied by the Peabody Coal Company) to community-controlled solar power, defending Navajo and Hopi water rights, strengthening the local traditional wool economy, and building food sovereignty.   This struggle will continue to be a challenge. In fact, just last week the Navajo Council was asked to vote on an extension of a lease for the Navajo Generating Station, which could extend the power plant’s connection to coal companies. BMWC sprung into action, organizing a Women’s March to push the Council to reject the extension or at least table the decision. A lifelong resident of La Mesa, Nicole Horsherder shared the Women’s March statement with the Navajo Council Delegates during their meeting, stating:
  The corporation’s bottom line is their profits… they are not interested in the welfare and the well-being of the Navajo people… All of us need clean air, clean water, productive and clean lands, not lands toxic from mining and air polluted by poisons…We recommend the [transition] of NGS to a solar hybrid facility… We want to be able to pass on to our children lands that are not contaminated, air that is not polluted, water that is clean. Congress is not going to come along and build a [water system] for us to pump water to Black Mesa if we should lose our water…”   Thanks to BMWC’s quick and effective organizing, the Council tabled that legislation to extend the lease. However, it is an ongoing threat, slated to be back on the docket in a little over a week. BMWC is doing everything they can do on the ground, and it’s time for those of us around the country to pitch in. With the US Bureau of Reclamation (part of the Department of the Interior) being a majority owner of the Navajo Generating Station, there’s more that those of us around the country can do stand together with indigenous communities in Black Mesa.
  As part of our US advocacy work, Grassroots International is proud to be working with the Black Mesa Water Coalition and other allies (including Movement Generation, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, and many more), through the Climate Justice Alignment (CJA). CJA is a grouping of more than 30 organizations across the country, working together to build a movement toward a Just Transition, based in communities experiencing the frontline impacts of climate disruption.

The Just Transition campaign (of which BMWC’s efforts are an important part) aims to end the use of extreme energy such as fossil fuels, nuclear energy, incineration, agro-fuels, and mega-projects such as dams; and to work towards real solutions – climate jobs and community-based resilience through community-controlled renewable energy, public transit, food sovereignty, water rights, and the protection of ecosystems. 
  In addition to deepening our connections with frontline impacted communities in the US, Grassroots’ participation in the CJA gives us a chance to respond to an important call from our Global South partners, many who are faced with more and more frequent and severe consequences – such as severe storms, droughts, and flooding – in large part due to the continued increase in levels of greenhouse gas emissions coming from the US. As we learn from our partners’ courage, resilience and creative solutions to address climate disruption, we share these international perspectives with our allies in the CJA. We look forward to strengthening the ties between the global movement for climate justice and a budding movement here in the US. 

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