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Biggest coal-burning power plant in the West is most likely shutting down

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The biggest coal-burning power plant in the West is fighting for survival — and despite support from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress, it appears likely to close next year.

The Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona is a centerpiece of the economy on the largest Native American reservation in the country, providing hundreds of jobs. But the power plant is also struggling to stay open as local utilities that use its power turn to cheaper, greener energy sources, and it would need a new owner if it’s to continue operating.

With the search for an owner stalled and time running short before the plant’s current operating deal expires in December 2019, a crucial tribal leader has joined a chorus of those saying the plant is unlikely to survive.

“Right now all the indicators are this plant is going to shut down. It’s going to be decommissioned,” Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, said in an interview.

The Navajo Generating Station has polluted the skies over the reservation for decades, but it’s also been key to the financial well-being of the Navajo and neighboring Hopi tribes. The two tribes share in the royalties from the Kayenta coal mine, which supplies the power plant, and also faces closure. The Navajo government gets 22 percent of its revenue from the operation, while the Hopi’s budget is more than 85 percent dependent on coal power. The power plant and the mine also provide 725 jobs, most of them filled by Navajos.

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The fate of the power plant is an important test case of President Donald Trump’s promise to preserve coal jobs.

Peabody Energy, the biggest coal miner in the U.S., and its investment banking firm, Lazard, are leading the fight to keep the Navajo Generating Station open. Peabody, which runs the Kayenta mine, has been working with Trump’s Interior Department to try to find utilities or other customers to take the plant’s power, agreements that would make the plant more attractive to a new owner. The Environmental Protection Agency has helped out, too, agreeing to accept a less expensive plan for controlling emissions from the plant, according to a Lazard representative.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 44-year-old power plant, which helps light the Southwest and powers the pumps that send Colorado River water to Tucson and Phoenix, has been the most heavily polluting coal-fired electricity producer in the West. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have been pushing to close it.

 Clyde Sampson has been a Maintenance Mechanic at Navajo Generating Station on and off for five years. Like many of the other workers at the power plant, Sampson says the shutdown might force him to hit the road to find work. Jim Seida / NBC News

Begaye’s comments were noteworthy, first because he had previously spoken with more optimism about keeping the generating station open and second because his remarks broke from the “unified voice” that coal mine representatives have said is needed in their campaign to prolong the life of the power plant.

Begaye says he believes Peabody’s efforts and the federal government’s assistance won’t be enough to reverse the market forces pushing utilities away from coal. He has criticized the Trump administration for failing to do more to save the Navajo Generating Station, saying in an interview with NBC News last year that the administration had created “a lot of thunder, no rain” in their support of the power plant and coal mine. In his more recent remarks, Begaye added that potential operators of the power plant “are not buying what is being said from the White House.”

The tribal leader also flatly rejected another idea designed to make NGS power cheaper and thus more attractive to potential new owners: lowering the royalties that Peabody pays to the Navajo and Hopi for their coal. Begaye said his tribe has been asked too many times in the past to make concessions that allow outsiders to tap its rich natural resources.

 SHIPROCK, NM – AUGUST 14: President of the Navajo Nation Russell Begaye talks on the phone with members of the EPA about the current state of the San Juan River and what he feels needs to be done August 14, 2015 at the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation. File Brent Lewis / Denver Post via Getty Images

Coal-generated electricity has been in retreat around America, as hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) has lowered the price of natural gas and as utilities increasingly turn to renewable power sources. Doubts about the future of NGS have grown because Peabody has not been able to deliver on its pledge, made six months ago, to line up a new power plant operator by the end of the first quarter of 2018. That date passed last week, without a successor being named.

Peabody, though, says it is still confident about finding a new owner for the power plant. “We are encouraged by the progress Lazard is making to support the transition of the plant to new owners and will continue working with stakeholders to advance all possible steps to keep the plant online well beyond 2019,” the mining company said in a statement.

One reason Lazard and Peabody are hopeful is because of their political allies. They predicted that Arizona state regulators will require that state utilities planning to abandon the coal plant keep getting electricity there. There’s no indication that will happen anytime soon. But the arguments in favor of the plant’s survival will be heard in Washington this week. On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a hearing on the benefits of the 2,250-megawatt Navajo Generating Station.

Begaye, though, believes the Navajo’s dependence on industries like coal will ultimately come to an end. “We will make a shift away from natural resource dependency,” said Begaye, noting the tribe hopes to turn to technology instead. “We are in a very exciting time for [the] Navajo.”

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Afghanistan: Gunmen kill two female Supreme Court judges in Kabul car ambush | World News

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Gunmen killed two female judges from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court in an early morning ambush, which also saw their driver wounded.

The attack happened as the two judges, who have not yet been named, were driving to their office in Kabul in a court vehicle on Sunday, a court official said.

It was the latest attack in the Afghan capital during peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government officials in Doha, Qatar.

No one has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack. A spokesman for the Taliban said its fighters were not involved.

A woman cries at the scene of the deadly ambush. Pic: AP
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A woman cries at the scene of the deadly ambush. Pic: AP

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani issued a statement on Sunday condemning attacks on civilians by the Taliban and other militant groups.

Mr Ghani said “terror, horror and crime” was not a solution to Afghanistan‘s problem and urged the Taliban to accept “a permanent ceasefire”.

Government officials, journalists, and activists have been targeted in recent months, stoking fear particularly in Kabul.

The Taliban has denied involvement in some of the attacks, but has said its fighters would continue to “eliminate” important government figures, though not journalists or civil society members.

Rising violence has complicated US-brokered peace talks taking place in Doha as Washington withdraws troops.

Sources on both sides say negotiations are only likely to make substantive progress once US President-elect Joe Biden
takes office and makes his Afghan policy known.

The number of US troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001.

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COVID-19: First person in Brazil inoculated as two coronavirus vaccines approved | World News

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A nurse has become the first person in Brazil to receive a coronavirus jab just hours after the country’s health regulator approved two vaccines.

Monica Calazans, 54, who works on the coronavirus frontline, was vaccinated in a ceremony in Sao Paulo.

The rollout of the vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca comes after months of delay and political disputes over the immunisation programme.

SP - Sao Paulo - 01/17/2021 - SAO PAULO, FIRST VACCINATE CORONAVAC - The nurse at the Emilio Ribas Institute, Monica Calazans, 54 years old, living in Itaquera, east of Sao Paulo, celebrates after receiving the first dose of the Coronavac vaccine that was authorized for emergency use by ANVISA, in a decision taken this Sunday 17 after a meeting that lasted 5 hours at the institution's headquarters in Brasilia. Photo: Suamy Beydoun / AGIF
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The 54-year-old nurse celebrates the milestone

Brazil currently has six million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine ready to distribute in the next few days, and is awaiting the arrival of another two million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University jab.

“This is good news for Brazil, but six million doses are still very few,” said Ethel Maciel, an epidemiologist at the Federal University of Espirito Santo.

“It will not allow the entire population at risk to be fully immunised, nor is it clear how quickly the country will obtain more vaccines.”

Jair Bolsonaro
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Jair Bolsonaro has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic

Vaccination in Brazil is beginning later than neighbours such as Argentina and Chile despite a robust public health system and decades of experience with immunisation campaigns.

The process to present and approve the COVID-19 vaccines was fraught with conflict, as allies of President Jair Bolsonaro sought to cast doubt on the efficacy of the Sinovac shot which had been backed by his political rival, Sao Paulo state’s governor Joao Doria.

Health professionals on the frontline against coronavirus will be the first to receive the jabs.

It will then be extended to others including the indigenous population, people over 60 years of age and people with pre-existing conditions.

Brazil coronavirus cases pass four million
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Brazil has the second highest COVID-19 death toll behind the US

The South American country has now registered 8,455,059 cases since the pandemic began.

Its death toll has risen to 209,296 meaning only the US has suffered more fatalities, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

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Uganda: After contentious election, people needed answers but opposition could not provide any | World News

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We were expecting a cacophony of noise after the Ugandan Election Commission declared the result in a presidential poll that was both contentious and shockingly violent.

However, we did not see any angry chatter, nor collective calls to arms on popular social media sites because the government had switched the internet off.

The streets of the capital Kampala were quiet as members of the military, carrying short-barrelled machine guns, walked languidly down the side of city streets.

Ugandan security forces on patrol a checkpoint Kampala, Uganda, Saturday Jan. 16, 2021, after Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was declared winner of the presidential elections.
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Ugandan security forces on patrol at a checkpoint in Kampala (Pic: AP)

The 38-year old opposition leader Bobi Wine, who visibly connected with tens of thousands of younger Ugandans during the campaign, had been removed from public view. The security services are surrounding his home and blocking anyone from entering.

In effect, the government has used the tools of state to turn down the noise – to dissipate the heat – after its long-time leader, President Yoweri Museveni, took 58% of the vote.

Mr Wine, a popular pop star turned politician, garnered a respectable but insufficient 35%.

And the authorities’ masterplan seems to be working, at least for now.

We were invited to a press conference by Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party where they were expected to outline their immediate plans, address their leader’s absence, and introduce newly elected parliamentary members to the nation.

The deployment of  soldiers around  Bobi wine`s home in Magere, Kampala, Uganda, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021,  after president Yoweri Museveni was declared  winner by electoral commission this afternoon..(AP Photo/Nicholas Bamulanzeki).
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Soldiers patrol outside Mr Wine’s home (Pic: AP)

But the event proved to be nothing short of a shambles.

The NUP’s spokesman, Joel Senyonyi, began by saying that Mr Wine was now, “effectively under house arrest, an illegal detention”.

He criticised the election as an exercise in mass fraud, “with outcomes from the Election Commission that are as curious and amazing as anyone can imagine”.

But when I asked him what they planned to do about it, the spokesman was unable to offer anything specific.

“What do you want people to do?” I asked.

“Our simple answer to that is we are urging Ugandans to use every means available in the constitution to keep pursuing the change of leadership that we want.”

Supporters of Ugandan President  Yoweri Kaguta Museveni celebrate in Kampala, Uganda, Saturday Jan. 16, 2021, after their candidate was declared winner of the presidential elections. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
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Supporters of President Museveni celebrate (Pic: AP)

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Use every constitutional avenue to achieve change. I think that is very clear. Now pardon us, our colleagues (have been raided)…”

The press conference ended abruptly, before any of the new MPs had been introduced, with Mr Senyonyi signalling that some sort of emergency situation had developed.

He left through the gate of the NUP’s headquarters with several party officials and two-dozen members of the media, including Sky News, in tow.

We drove at not insignificant speed to a slum in the capital, then ran down a sewage-strewn track to a small clearing where a man, sitting in a plastic seat, relayed a story about an attack meted out by the security services.

His name was Andrew Natumanya and said he was a volunteer polling agent for the NUP party. He had been collecting declaration forms with results from individual polling stations in central and eastern Uganda when a group of plain clothes policemen had grabbed him, roughed him up and confiscated the documents.

I noticed that journalists and camera operators began to drift away as the young man outlined his experience. His allegations are disturbing and deserving of attention – but they are not unique.

Over the past few months, dozens of NUP party members and supporters have lodged allegations of harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests as they attempt to challenge a system of government that does not tolerate organised dissent.

Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 35 years in Uganda
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Yoweri Museveni has been in power for 35 years in Uganda

But the National Unity Platform had a crucial opportunity at the press conference to outline their plan, to come up with an approach which exploits and builds on the momentum they have manufactured over the past year.

Should young Ugandans take to the streets? Does the NUP support non-violent protest? How do concerned citizens challenge an election result that many believe is fraudulent?

Today, the people needed answers and the country’s biggest opposition party, minus its leader, could not provide any.

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