For Wahleah Johns, transitioning from coal to renewable energy is about environmental justice. Johns is the solar program director at the Black Mesa Water Coalition, a Native American-led organization based in northern Arizona. The area is home to large coal mines, but the local Navajo communities still face widespread poverty.

Johns: “There’s 18-20,000 families that don’t have electricity, and about forty percent of our people still haul water. The irony is that our coal and the water we sit on has been providing the electrical needs and the water needs for the Southwest for the past 50 years.”

During that time, the Peabody Coal Company used three million gallons of water per day from the Navajo aquifer – the region’s only drinking water – to create coal slurry.

But about ten years ago, the Black Mesa Mine was shut down after the Navajo Nation Council blocked Peabody’s access to the aquifer and the power plant supplied by the mine was closed for repeated pollution violations.

Now, to create renewable, community-controlled energy, the coalition is introducing solar. By helping the region transition from coal to solar development, Johns also aims to create jobs and boost tribal self-sufficiency.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: The project aims to reclaim this mined land (source: OurPowerCampaign website.

More Resources
Black Mesa Water Coalition
Our Power Campaign
Coal Mining On Navajo Nation In Arizona Takes Heavy Toll
Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun
Beating Climate Change by Retooling the Economy – The Story Begins in Navajo Country

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...