Clahchischilliage advocates for San Juan Generating Station transition plan in PBS web documentary

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FARMINGTON — State Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage’s ongoing efforts to get Public Service Company of New Mexico to develop a transition plan for the San Juan Generating Station is featured in a 12-minute online documentary released Monday on YouTube.

The documentary, which is the second episode in the web series “The Hidden Vote,” is distributed by Indie Lens Storycast and produced by the PBS series “Independent Lens” and the PBS Digital Studios.

 

The episode focuses on Clahchischilliage, a Republican state representative from San Juan County, as she tries to raise awareness about the impacts closing the San Juan Generating Station will have on the local community.

“The country is more polarized now than it’s been in a generation and potentially since the Civil War,” said filmmaker Ben Rekhi when reached by phone Monday.

Rekhi said the goal of the documentary series is to promote dialogue across the political divide.

Rekhi said one thing he learned during filming that surprised him is while Native American reservations comprise only 2 percent of the nation’s land mass, they account for 22 percent of the natural resources.

He said this puts Native American nations at the intersection of indigenous rights, energy production and local politics.

“The issue at hand transcends party lines,” Clahchischilliage said when reached by phone Monday.

She said she was shocked and excited when contacted about being in the documentary web series. Clahchischilliage said it is a way to raise awareness about the issues at stake with the closing of the power plant.

Clahchischilliage said about 50 percent of the generating station’s workers live in her district, which encompasses western San Juan County.

She said one of the things that concerns her the most is the impact closing the generating station will have on the composition of the family unit.

“That composition will change if the head of household has to leave to find work,” she said.

She said the Central Consolidated School District is already seeing families being impacted by the head of household leaving to find work. Two of the four units at the San Juan Generating Station have already closed and San Juan County has seen a downturn in the oil and gas industry in recent years.

Rekhi said when it comes to the energy industry it is important to put emotions aside and work together to find a solution.

He said both sides acknowledge that the energy industry and how energy is produced is changing. Rekhi said the timeline for the change is where the disagreements emerge.

The documentary was released during an election season, however it does not feature Clahchischilliage’s challenger Anthony Allison. Allison is a former coal miner and a renewable energy proponent. The Democratic Party candidate was unable to meet with the filmmakers, Rekhi said. He said he had hoped to follow Allison as well, but the timing never worked out.

While Allison is not in the documentary, Janene Natasha Yazzie, who ran for the Democratic Party nomination for the Public Regulation Commission earlier this year, is prominently featured. Yazzie lost the Primary Election to Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, who is now running unopposed in the general election. The Public Regulation Commission provides oversight of private utilities like PNM, which is the majority owner of the San Juan Generating Station.

Other episodes feature Muslim, Vietnamese, LGBT and African American communities

The first episode in "The Hidden Vote" followed two Muslim Americans running for City Council in Dearborn, Michigan. The episode was released last week and can be viewed on the Indie Lens Storycast's YouTube channel.

Rekhi said the third episode will focus on the Vietnamese community in Orange County, California. The fourth episode features the LGBTQ community in Texas that is pro-gun rights. The final episode will focus on the African American community in Mississippi.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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