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Alice Gilmore, 76, sits in front of one of the... (Felicia Fonseca/The Associated Press )
BURNHAM, N.M. - In a corner of the Navajo Nation burdened by old and heavily polluting coal-fired power plants, it matters little to many tribal elders that another facility promises to be the most efficient and cleanest of all.
With two plants already a dozen miles away, the last thing they want is another one even closer, a 1,500-megawatt project barely two miles in another direction.
''We want the smoke to stop,'' said 76-year-old Alice Gilmore in Navajo, raising a hand toward the belching plants.
Others say the $3 billion Desert Rock Energy Facility could invigorate the lagging economy of the Navajo Nation, which stretches across parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Backers say it would bring $52 million a year in revenues to the tribal government and provide up to 400 jobs on a reservation where unemployment hovers around 50 percent.
The plan - the largest-ever economic development partnership for the Navajos - has prompted fierce debate pitting that economic windfall against environmental concerns and traditional culture on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, rich with natural gas, uranium and low-sulfur coal.
Some Navajos believe they are inseparable from Mother Earth and Father Sky - stewards of the land who must live in harmony with the natural world. There are no Navajo words to describe the complexities of power plants; to many elders, they