By Jeremy Beren/NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Phoenix, Ariz.) — A panel of five Arizona enterprise commissioners on Tuesday refused to issue an environmental compatibility certificate to the Salt River project for its controversial Coolidge power plant expansion.
Companies Commissioner Sandra Kennedy, who voted to reject the measure, criticized SRP’s lack of transparency and cited an “unacceptable lack of public participation” as one of several reasons for her vote.
“A top-down decision was rushed to the SRP board, which approved the project with a one-vote margin,” Kennedy said. “One thing is clear: A billion dollar investment – and that’s ‘a billion’ with a ‘B’ – in fossil fuel infrastructure in 2022…is a tragic shift of funds.”
SRP had maintained that it was working closely with residents of the small, historically black community of Randolph to alleviate growing environmental concerns around its proposal, which would have doubled the size of its Coolidge plant. But four of the five company commissioners didn’t think the metro utility giant Phoenix had done enough to quell the anxiety.
“I commend the parties for making significant progress towards mitigating environmental impacts…however, I still believe that increased emissions, when combined with pre-existing environmental and air quality issues, will cause an unacceptable total environment for the Randolph Community,” said Enterprise Commissioner Anna Tovar as she, too, voted to reject the proposal.
Earlier Tuesday morning, activists from Rural Arizona Action, the Sierra Club and Randolph himself converged on ACC headquarters in Phoenix for a press conference to voice their fierce opposition to the SRP’s expansion plan.
Randolph resident Jeff Jordan was the first to speak. Jordan, who has lived in Randolph for 62 years, reflected on Randolph’s history as a community that black and Native American residents have called home for about a century. He explained that many tribal governments are unaware that they have members living in Randolph, and that the SRP proposal would “erase” history there.
“The area also has a long history of Native Americans, and you’re looking at one,” Jordan said. “Native Americans such as Pimas, Tohono Oʼodhams, Pascua Yaqui, Navajo, and Hopi have cultural significance in this area, and I can attest to that based on my membership in the Gila River Indian community.”
Another Randolph resident, Mary Turner, pleaded with the ACC to remember the human beings whose lives would have been altered by the SRP proposal. If approved, SRP would have obtained the rights to operate 28 turbines located directly adjacent to the community.
“It’s a very inhumane act to allow 28 turbines to operate in our community,” Turner said. “We hope and pray that justice will be served today, simply by this commission denying SRP’s request.”
Warren Stewart, senior pastor of First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix, stood in solidarity with Randolph residents and those advocating for them in Pinal and Maricopa counties. During his speech, he spoke to the Corporate Commissioners about the “responsibility and opportunity” they had before them – to help free Randolph from decades of inequity.
“Residents of Randolph, the historic black town, have been victims of environmental injustice and environmental racism for decades,” Stewart said. “(Actually) it was born – if my story is correct – when people came from Texas and Oklahoma to pick cotton, one of ‘five C’ of the state of Arizona that keep this state moving forward.”
Stewart likened the fight for the future of SRP’s Coolidge factory to a biblical “David versus Goliath” showdown, and further insisted that the people of Randolph show Pinal County, corporate interests and government interests that they will no longer be exploited.
“David was a little shepherd boy who was not even in the army, but when Goliath and the Philistines were about to overtake his country, David ran while others recoiled in fear and challenged Goliath. And David did not didn’t take Saul’s armor. He had five smooth stones,” Stewart said.
“Now I heard there were five votes on the Arizona Corporation Commission. And one stone that David threw killed Goliath and defeated the Philistines. Last time I was told said, there were two votes for expansion, two votes against expansion. All we need is one vote to help the people of Randolph become 21st century Davids and defeat the SRP’s Goliath.”
In the end, they received four votes against the proposal, sending SRP back to the drawing board.