O'Halleran introduces the 'New Promise Act'

April 6, 2021
In The News

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Help may be in the works for the Hopi and Navajo tribes and other communities impacted by the closure of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS).

U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who represents the district that includes Navajo and Hopi, on March 26 introduced the National Emergency Workforce and Providing Recovery Opportunities to Manage the Industry’s Shifting Economics Act, also known as the New Promise Act.

U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran spoke March 26 at Page City Hall to speak about the legislation and was joined by Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, Chairman Nuvangyaoma and Page Mayor Bill Diak.

The legislation would provide economic development resources to communities affected by the closure of NGS and those like it throughout America with 214 plants throughout the U.S. slated to close.

The act, which needs to be passed by the U.S. House and Senate and signed by the president in order to become law, would establish job and skills training programs for displaced employees as well as investing in cities, towns and tribes that have suffered economic downturn as a result of closed coal generation plants.

O’Halleran met with Hopi Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma and other Hopi tribal officials May 30 at Hopi Health Care Center to discuss the New Promise Act, the pandemic and other issues.

Nuvangyaoma praised the New Promise Act because it would help make up for lost revenue and could jump start economic development. Nuvangyaoma said 85 percent of the Hopi Tribe’s budget came from NGS the Promise Act would create a White House Council on Energy Transition that would help with the transition for Hopi and other communities in need.

O’Halleran said the legislation would help families and communities impacted by the closure of coal plants.

“We’re trying to move toward climate change and families cannot be forgotten in the process,” he said.

Nuvangyaoma said there is a shift to renewable energy and Hopi is poised to be included in that process.

O’Halleran said Democrats and Republicans support this legislation and it’s important for the proposal to have bipartisan support. He is optimistic that the legislation will pass.

“If you look at the map it becomes clear that this will have a huge impact,” he said referring to the 214 coal plants across the nation that will close in the next 20 years. O’Halleran said there are three coal plants in CD1 that will close in the next 14 years.

“I can’t imagine any Congressman being against this,” he said.

O’Halleran said when he toured the closed NGS, it looked like a scene out of Star Wars.

“NGS was a powerhouse for northern Arizona and the many rural and tribal families who relied on the good-paying jobs it provided,” O’Halleran said. “With the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism has plummeted, especially from the international visitors the Page community was so used to welcoming. In introducing my updated New Promise Act, I am taking into account the concerns of tribal leadership, county, local and statewide stakeholders to provide an all-of-the-above recovery approach for the community of Page, and so many communities like it across rural America, where hardworking folks are out of a job due to no fault of their own.”

O’Halleran said the New Promise Act would require coal plants that are closing to give the communities three years notice so they could prepare for the transition.

The New Promise Act would:

Direct the Secretary of Labor and Director of the White House Council to establish a 10-year pilot program to provide education and training opportunities to dislocated workers from the downturn of coal-fired electric generation to enter jobs in emerging energy-related industries;

Establish a mitigation fund to recoup revenue losses incurred following the closure of a coal-fired generating station in an economically distressed community;

Create, within the White House, a Council on Energy Transitions, responsible for reporting data on coal-fired generation station closures and their effects, conducting outreach to impacted communities, and maintaining a team of grant specialists;

Form Regional Transition Advisory Committees comprised of local government, labor, utility, environmental, academic, and economic experts to work with distressed communities and develop targeted recovery plans;

Put in place a requirement for electric utilities to notify potentially impacted local governments of the projected date of seasonal operations or closure of a coal-fired generating unit or facility; and

Allocate

$50 million annually for economic development planning to distressed communities over 14 years, totaling $700 million;

$50 million annually for infrastructure investments in distressed communities over five years, totaling $250 million;

$100 million in displaced worker training support over 10 years; and

$250 million in support for lost revenues to impacted communities which phases down annually over 7 years for a total of $1.35 billion in support to coal communities.

NGS was a coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Nation. For decades, NGS provided good-paying jobs for families on Navajo and Hopi lands, and within the community of Page. The plant closed its doors at the end of 2019 following poor economic performance, competition from market penetration and affordability of other energy sources, displacing many workers and creating an economic void for key communities across rural Arizona in its wake.

Navajo Nation President Nez released a statement in support of the New Promise Act.

“The Navajo Nation thanks Congressman O'Halleran for introducing the NEW PROMISE Act to provide support and resources for economic recovery and community support due to the closure of the Navajo Generating Station. The closure impacted many Navajo families and changed the economic outlook for our communities. We look forward to working with Congress and this administration on providing a future for our Navajo Nation and our workers as we transition our economy and help our workers succeed." he said.

Hopi Chairman Nuvangaoma said:

“I want to thank Congressman O’Halleran for reintroducing the NEW PROMISE Act and making it even more robust. The NEW PROMISE Act will provide financial assistance to help the Hopi Tribe and the surrounding communities to transition our economies away from the reliance on coal while averting cuts to critical services as we struggle to replace revenue."

Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler released a statement stating:

“The NEW PROMISE Act is a critical piece of legislation to help local economies and communities’ transition as coal-fired power plants close. The closure of the Navajo Generating Station, the nation’s only federally-chartered coal plant, has devastated the economy and family lives of our local region. The NEW PROMISE Act provides funding and resources, along with a federal focus on helping our area reach a new economy that can provide sustaining and dependable jobs. Thank you to Rep. Tom O’Halleran for his leadership to author this bill and for listening to the needs of northern Arizona.”

Infrastructure Bill would help Hopi and Navajo

O’Halleran would like to see the New Promise Act included in President Joe Biden’s upcoming infrastructure bill. If not, then it would be a bill that would stand alone.

The infrastructure bill would fix roads and bridges and increase broadband as well as addressing water and sanitation needs throughout America.

O’Halleran said the infrastructure bill would address a lot of other needs on Navajo and Hopi including roads.

“Highway 264 looks more like an amusement park than a road,” he said. “We cannot overcome these needs without a long term program for America.”

Nuvangyaoma said he has a list of needs that could be addressed through the infrastructure bill. He said more broadband is needed on Hopi to address education and health needs.

Nuvangyaoma also said he wants to advocate for all First Nations that have needs because of their rural nature. For example, he said the brownouts in Texas showed that power needs have to be addressed, adding that brownouts are common on Hopi because they only have one power station.

“With the help from the congressman, we can bridge these gaps,” he said.

O’Halleran said he expects the infrastructure bill to pass, but the question will be the cost and how much funding Congress will approve.

COVID numbers decrease

Nuvangyaoma was happy to report that during the last 14 days there were only two cases of COVID-19.

“I was relieved to hear that. We want to get it to zero,” he said.

Nuvangyaoma and O’Halleran agreed that this is no time for people to let their guard down, especially with the news of new variants popping up.

“We’re looking at Phase One reopening, but we need to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing,” he said.

During his visit at Hopi Health Care Center, O’Halleran emphasized his good relationship with Hopi saying that during the pandemic they learned what worked and what didn’t work. He said he is continuing to collaborate with the tribe to see how they can improve going into the future.

“Not only with health care, but with everything because everything costs more here,” he said.

For example, he said, pipes or roads in the city may need one mile of work while on Hopi it would take 20 miles or more.

“Congress needs to understand the scale, the need, the history and the people,” he said.

Nuvangyaoma said it was great to step out of zoom for a meeting with the Congressman since they had both been vaccinated. He emphasized that they everyone at the meeting was wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“Northern Arizona doesn’t end in Flagstaff,” he said pointing for the need to have good representation at Hopi.

Nuvangyaoma thanked O’Halleran for being a frequent visitor to Hopi because he cares.

“Having him come out here is something we value,” he said. “There have been a lot of successes.”

Detention Center gets funded

One of the successes is that $20 million has been approved to fund a long overdue new detention center building. This may take about four years as it is just going through the contractors now.

O’Halleran said the funding for the Hopi Detention Center has been an on and off again battle for years.

“It took two years just to get a trailer setup there,” he said.