Navajo Mine: How the Council voted

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, April 1, 2013

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L egislation to authorize $2.3 million in supplemental funding to continue investigating the tribe's possibility of purchasing Navajo Mine is waiting for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly's signature.

Navajo Mine is owned and operated by BHP Navajo Coal Co. and solely supplies coal to Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington.

In a special session March 29, the Navajo Nation Council passed the legislation to approve using $2.3 million in supplemental funding from the Undesignated Unreserved Fund Balance to continue the investigation with a vote of 14 in favor and 6 opposed after two hours of debate.

  • LoRenzo Bates, who sponsored the measure, said the results of the first phase of the investigation concluded that the tribe should consider buying the 30,000 acre coal mine, which would continue to generate revenue for the tribe and continue employment opportunities for tribal members.

    Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/Tiistoh Sikaad/Tse Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland) explained that while the coal belongs to the Navajo Nation, the tribe does not have the operational management, personnel or the equipment to remove it from the land.

    By purchasing those aspects of the mining operation, the tribe would have those capabilities, he said.

    Phase I of the investigation started after the Council unanimously passed a $750,000 supplemental appropriation from the UUFB in October to pay for the analysis.

    In December, the tribe and BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal, which owns BHP Navajo Coal Co., signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding to negotiate the acquisition of Navajo Mine.

    Under the terms of the agreement, BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal would continue to operate the mine until July 2016. At that time, the tribe could take over with its own mining company or select another company, but the mine employees and equipment would remain with the new operator.

    Much like the March 28 meeting of the Council's Naa'bik'iyati' Committee, delegates questioned the purchase and the need to supply additional money to continue the investigation.

    Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau) attempted to have the legislation tabled with a directive to have a presentation about the possible acquisition made to delegates but it failed with a vote 5 in favor and 15 opposed.

    Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/Kíts'íílí/Piñon/Whippoorwill) motioned to have the technical team include a health impact study on mining activity in the Four Corners area in the analysis.

    That motion passed with a vote of 16 in favor and 3 opposed.

    Hours after the Council passed the bill, it was submitted to Shelly's office for consideration.

    The president has three issues he wants to see addressed, said Erny Zah, communications director for Shelly, on Monday.

    Shelly wants to know how overhead costs would be paid for should the tribe take over, that no politicians be part of the management of the mine, and a plan to move toward clean coal, Zah said then added that Shelly has not taken action on the legislation.

    Under Navajo law, the president has up to ten days to veto or sign the bill into law or use his line-item veto authority.

    How the Council voted

    The official vote tally from the special session showed how each delegate voted on the legislation.

    Those listed as not voting include those who were absent.

    The following is a breakdown of the delegates' vote by name and chapters represented:

    Voting YES:

    • George Apachito (Alamo/Ramah/Tóhajiilee)
    • LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad/Tsé Daa K'aan/Upper Fruitland)
    • Joshua Lavar Butler (Tó Nanees Dizí)
    • Charles Damon II (Bááháálí/Chichiltah/Manuelito/Rock Springs/Tsayatoh/Tsé Lichíí)
    • Kenneth Maryboy (Aneth/Mexican Water/Red Mesa/Teec Nos Pos/Tólikan)
    • Jonathan Nez (Navajo Mountain/Oljato/Shonto/Ts'ah bii Kin)
    • Leonard Pete (Chinle)
    • Alton Joe Shepherd (Cornfields/Ganado/Jeddito/Kin Dah Lichíí/Steamboat)
    • Danny Simpson (Becenti/Crownpoint/Huerfano/Lake Valley/Nageezi/Nahodishgish/Tsé 'íí'áhí/ Whiterock)
    • Roscoe Smith (Crystal/Fort Defiance/Red Lake/Sawmill)
    • David Tom (Beclabito/Cove/Gadii'ahi-Tokoi/ Red Valley/Sheepsprings/Toadlena-Two Grey Hills/Tsé Alnaozt'i'í)
    • Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake)
    • Dwight Witherspoon (Forest Lake/Hardrock/Kíts'íílí/Piñon/Whippoorwill)
    • Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau)

    Voting NO:

    • Elmer Begay (Dilkon/Greasewood Springs/Indian Wells/Teesto/White Cone),
    • Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/Tohatchi)
    • Nelson Begaye (Lukachukai/Rock Point/Round Rock/Tsaile-Wheatfields/Tsé Ch'ízhí)
    • Russell Begaye (Shiprock)
    • Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tsé Si áni/Wide Ruins)
    • Duane Tsinigine (Bodaway-Gap/Coppermine/K'ai'bii'tó/LeChee/Red Lake-Tonalea)

    Not voting:

    • Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta)
    • Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs/St. Michaels)
    • Johnny Naize (Blue Gap-Tachee/Cottonwood-Tselani/Low Mountain/Many Farms/Nazlini)
    • Walter Phelps (Cameron/Coalmine Mesa/Leupp/Tolani Lake/Tsídii To'ii)