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Navajos approve lease extension for Arizona power plant

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. -- The Navajo Nation Council has approved a lease extension for a northern Arizona coal-fired power plant that sends water to the state's biggest cities.

The council voted 16-6 in favor of the legislation during its session late Thursday.

Under the measure, the lease for the Navajo Generating Station near Page would expire in 2044. The agreement boosts yearly payments to the Navajo Nation from $3 million to $43 million.

Supporters say extending the lease preserves jobs and revenue to the tribe. It also keeps the coal mine that feeds the plant in operation.

The electricity generated by the plant delivers water to Arizona's most populated areas through a series of canals and ensures water rights settlements with American Indian tribes are met.

Salt River Project, which operates the plant, said Friday it was thankful the council extended the lease.

"We are currently reviewing the amendments that were included in the final vote, but the initial indication is the amendments are acceptable," said Mike Hummel, the utility's chief power system executive.

The legislation was one of the keys to ensuring the plant keeps running beyond 2019, when the existing lease is scheduled to expire. The other challenge has been pressure from federal environmental regulators to curb pollution from the plant.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions at the Navajo Generating Station be reduced by 84 percent within 10 years. The EPA said that translates to 28,500 tons a year and improved air quality at places including the Grand Canyon.

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