Representatives from the Dine Power Authority (DPA) say they will operate the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant with at least one degree of separation from the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (NNEPA), which will have oversight of the project.

Steven C. Begay, general manager of the DPA, said papers have been filed to create the Desert Rock Energy Company, LLC, which will own and operate the proposed power plant. The Navajo Nation has negotiated rights to up to 25 percent of the plant. He said other potential owners, besides Sithe Global, the Houston-based energy company that plans to build the plant, should be determined within roughly nine months.

The Desert Rock Energy Company will create space between the tribal government, the power plant owners and the NNEPA, he said. "We made sure there is separation between the government and the business in a structured way."

The DPA is an enterprise of the Navajo Nation, designed in part to own part of the proposed power plant, so the Navajo Nation receives money from more than just coal-mining royalties and leasing land, Begay said. Eventually the tribe may use money earned from the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant to build a 200 megawatt wind project.

Lori Goodman, a member of Dine Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, said she worried about a potential conflict of interest with the Navajo Nation both owning and supervising the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant. But more importantly, she worried the NNEPA would not have enough funding to precisely monitor the plant.

"They're understaffed and underfunded. They don't have the capacity to do it," she said. "They're certainly capable of doing it, but they don't have the capacity to carry out anything of that magnitude."

Rachel Misra, a compliance officer for the NNEPA operating permit program, said no conflict of interest exists, especially because the NNEPA has a status like a state environment agency and must report to the U.S. EPA.

"If the U.S. EPA calls and says, We heard a complaint, we want to come and look at it,' then they will have to be allowed," Misra said. "Our status is the status that a state has."

She added that the NNEPA does not support the Navajo Nation one way or another but deals only with regulatory issues. Furthermore, the NNEPA receives its funding primarily from the federal government rather than from the tribal government. It has plenty of financing and will continue to, she said.

Wendy Chavez, spokeswoman for the U.S. EPA Region 9, also said no conflict of interest exists. She compared the Navajo Nation owning part of the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant and overseeing it through the NNEPA to the U.S. government having oversight of the U.S. military.

"Just because they're part of the federal government doesn't mean we can let things slide," she said.

The U.S. government does not own any power plants overseen by the U.S. EPA, she said.

Lisa Meerts: lmeerts@daily-times.com.