Political Economy of Coal Mining on Navajo Land

EPA Grant Number: U915400
Title: Political Economy of Coal Mining on Navajo Land
Investigators: Dietz, Sidney B.
Institution: University of California - Berkeley
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: January 1, 1998 through January 1, 2001
Project Amount: $80,261
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Environmental Justice , Fellowship - Sociology , Tribal Environmental Health Research


The objective of this research project is to demonstrate that an idealized picture of the Navajo people is a result of attempts by the Navajo government itself to create a unified Navajo nationalism in this century. Some theorists on Navajo affairs have imagined the Navajo people as a coherent race with a coherent history, the "natural stewards" of the land. According to this view, the Navajo government's support of the coal industry would be inconsistent with the desires and interests of the Navajo people. (Navajo people suffer from poverty and environmental degradation, while wealthier people in Los Angeles enjoy cheap electric power from Navajo land). Its active definitions of Navajo people, Navajo land, Navajo property (both communal and private), and even Navajo tradition have succeeded in creating a shared vision of Navajo land, where none existed even a century ago.

The Navajo government attempts to both maintain the inequality imposed by the coal mining on its land and also to fight it. For instance, the Navajo government has pursued higher payments from coal companies and stricter environmental regulations on their activities to address this inequality. It is unclear that even success in these pursuits would benefit anyone but the Navajo government and its workers.


This research project examines the relationship among Navajo government and coal-cycle companies on the reservation using economic, historical, and social analyses. The strip mining and the burning of coal for electrical power export has been the major private industry on the Navajo reservation during the last 30 years. The Navajo government is the sole landlord on the formal reservation, and often uses its broad powers to maintain the lease rights of coal miners and maintain its royalty stream from mining activities.

This research project will present an argument on why and how the Navajo government uses its financial, cultural, and political power in maintaining its troubled relationship with mining companies. The results of this research project will explain the social and economic determinants of the Navajo government's behavior, and will suggest improvements in the processes at work to benefit the Navajo people as a whole.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, political economy, coal mining, Navajo, coal industry, environmental degradation, coal-cycle companies, social and economic determinants., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Scientific Discipline, environmental justice, Social Science, socioeconomically disadvantaged, cultural differences, environmental degradation, coal mining, political economy, Navajo land, tribal communities

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999
  • Final