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This thesis examines coal-energy development in the San Juan Basin, which is located in the culturally rich and environmentally diverse Four Corners region. Between 1960 and 1985 intensive coal-energy development—in the form of strip mines and power plants—took place in the western portion of the San Juan Basin. This period saw the enactment of major environmental legislation and the rise of the modern environmental movement. My thesis specifically focuses on how this development unleashed environmental damage upon the regions land, water, and air. Beyond examining environmental destruction, my thesis explores how different groups came into conflict over coal-energy development. The groups that most actively contested the development of coal-energy were Navajo tribal leaders, local Navajo communities, Navajo activists, environmental organizations, and energy and mining corporations. I make the argument that each group built a discourse around energy development, environmental legislation, and the natural environment in ways that conformed to each group's particular interests. The mere specter of energy development unleashed intergroup conflict even when plans for surface mines, coal gasification, and power plant projects did not materialize. Failed energy projects still resulted in social and landscape changes, such as intergroup conflict, factionalizing of Navajo political and social structures, changes in legal control over land, and the designation of wilderness areas within coal regions.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Truett, Samuel

Second Committee Member

Ball, Durwood



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