Civil War on the Left, Part 51: Sierra Club vs. Sierra Club

In recent years the Sierra Club has been agitating to close down a large coal-fired power plant in Arizona that the Navajo Indians run on their land. But guess what? This coal plant was built way back in the 1960s at the behest of . . . the Sierra Club. So naturally the Clubbers are currently suffering from 50 shades of liberal guilt.

Bill Corcoran, western regional director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, fesses up in a recent issue of the Club’s magazine, in “The Sierra Club’s Shadowy History With the Navajo Generating Station.”

When, in 2009, the Sierra Club launched a campaign pressing for the closure of the Navajo Generating Station, a massive power plant in the Four Corners region, the move seemed in line with the organization’s new priorities in the age of climate change. The Club’s Beyond Coal campaign was beginning to hit its stride in halting or retiring coal-burning power plants nationwide, and the Navajo Generating Station, the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi River and the seventh-largest source of carbon pollution in the United States, was a natural target. . .

With the Navajo Generating Station now on the verge of closing, this is a good time to step back and review the Sierra Club’s long, twisted history with the coal mines and power plants located on and near the Navajo Nation. In doing so, we can see how the environmental movement has frequently excluded, erased, and marginalized indigenous peoples and their struggles as it has sought to keep landscapes free of industrial exploitation. . .

It seems the Sierra Club put its weight behind a plan to build coal plants instead of more (carbon-free) hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River.

According to Navajo activist leader John Redhouse, who in the late 1960s was a field organizer with the National Indian Youth Council, the Sierra Club’s Brower worked behind closed doors with then–Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and influential congressman Morris Udall of Arizona (the two were brothers) “to come up with the infamous Plan B Alternative to the proposed Grand Canyon hydroelectric dams.” Instead of being sustained by hydroelectric energy from dams, the Central Arizona Project would be fueled by coal mined and burned on Navajo lands. Redhouse writes: “And so Black Mesa, our sacred female mountain and physical and spiritual embodiment of our most beloved Mother Earth, and the sweet female ground waters of the holy Navajo Aquifer, were brutally mined and depleted.”

Some of Brower’s contemporaries have disputed this account, [*] arguing that the coal plants were already being planned by private utilities. But in the recent biography of David Brower, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club, journalist Robert Wyss reports that during congressional hearings in May 1967, Morris Udall forced Brower to look at photos of stripmining operations and asked if that kind of damage was preferable to a dam. Brower’s thought was, “Well, that is not very important country compared to Grand Canyon.”

And now the Sierra Club has caught a full blown case of Liberal Guilt about Insensitivity to Indigenous People. One of these days maybe they’ll acknowledge the same thing about their opposition to cheap power to the indigenous people of the energy-starved developing world.

[*] Whenever an environmentalist is confronted with an embarrassment or hypocrisy, you can invariably count on him to lie about it.

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