Last month, VICE NEWS released a short documentary about the Navajo Nation called “Cursed by Coal.” The images and stories confirm the title. “Seems like everything’s just dying out here,” says Navajo citizen Joe Allen. “It’s because of the mine. Everything is being ruined. They don’t care about people living on that land.”
About four hundred miles southwest of the Four Corners Power Plant, where much of the coal stripped from Navajo land is burned for energy, stands the gleaming Chase Tower in downtown Phoenix, the tallest building in the state of Arizona.
Connecting the two places is a maze of energy infrastructure, hidden and ignored when a Chase executive enters his air-conditioned top-floor office. “Electricity and power lines had become second nature in Phoenix, as assumed and expected aspect of modern life,” writes Andrew Needham. “Appearing in Phoenix’s homes, businesses, and factories at the flick of a switch, electricity seemed to exist in neither time nor space. It simply was.”
But it had to be made somewhere, as Needham vividly illustrates in his new book, Power Lines: Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest (Princeton University Press, 2014). With booming desert cities demanding ever more power throughout the last century and into the present, the Navajo Nation’s massive coal deposits were targeted for extraction, no matter the ecological or economic cost. People are still living with the consequences.
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