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Energy Transition Act investments are a chance to grow a healthy economic base for tribes


Under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s leadership, New Mexico will transition to a cleaner, renewable future we can be proud to pass along to the next generation. But this transition also holds the promise of a much bigger shift that could finally pay down the debt owed to New Mexico’s tribal communities. Tribes have waited too long to achieve equal footing with neighboring communities. 

The 100-mile affected radius of the Energy Transition Act is predominately land within the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation. The ETA is an opportunity for these communities to reimagine what jobs and the local economy can look like. Those with strong workforces and attractive quality of life win every time. Too often, those winners are not tribal nations where a legacy of disinvestment keeps many residents unplugged from even the most basic services and opportunities. 

To change the trajectory for our tribal communities, we must use the ETA’s investments as a Marshall Plan for Indian Country. Tribal communities cannot be competitive without policies to help them transition their economies.

Proposals before the Energy Transition Act Community Advisory Committee, due to meet this week, demonstrate just how impactful ETA investments in tribal communities can be for our people and New Mexico at large. 

These programs do more than just replace lost jobs. They create a diversified and resilient economy built on the skills and resources generations of indigenous people have developed and preserved  

Take, for example, the plans to cultivate our agrarian economy. Projects proposed by Nihi Ké' Baa-Diné, Dine Introspective and Diné Centered Research and Evaluation would harness the knowledge of elders and modern climate-sensitive farming techniques to help families rejuvenate the soil and create food security while building an important new natural resources economy.

Other proposals such as those from Native Renewables, a native-owned, woman-owned company, propose investing ETA transition dollars into: hiring Navajo workers to build off-grid solar generation systems and providing electricity to over 15,000 Navajo people that currently lack access.

Similar proposals to invest in transitioning coal-fired energy jobs to renewable energy technician training programs hold the promise of creating lifelong family-supporting trades. It is time that we at long last, bring jobs into our tribal communities and grow our regional economy.

It is essential that all three funds available through the Energy Transition Act from all three state agencies be used to support improvements in Navajo communities. After all, these are the communities that have endured the most harmful impacts of drilling, mining, refining and flaring operations while providing the rest of New Mexico with energy and tax revenue.

New Mexico’s native people are citizens of two nations. For over 50 years, this community has been at the heart of uranium and oil and gas development. But thanks to forward-looking legislation like the ETA we can ensure that tribal communities (particularly Navajo & Jicarilla) are a part of a cleaner, renewable and more sustainable future for the land and our people.

As we make this transition from extractive economies to a modern, sustainable one let us hope that the committee will honor the contributions of their indigenous citizens and use the ETA funding to include them as well. 

State Senator Benny Shendo has served District 22 for 8 years and is a resident of the Pueblo of Jemez, and has previously served as Cabinet Secretary of Indian Affairs.