Final agreements signed on mine purchase

(Times photo - Donovan Quintero)

A homestead sets out in the open range as a Navajo Mine dragline excavator digs for coal, leaving large piles of dirt along its path Saturday in Burnham, N.M.

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 7, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: A bullet-riddled sign states which way Navajo Mine is along Navajo Route 3005 south of Ojo Amarillo, N.M. On Oct 31, Navajo Transitional Energy Corporation, signed purchase agreements with BHP-Billiton to acquire Navajo Mine.

BOTTOM: The dragline excavator dwarfs a Navajo Mine dump truck, bottom left, on Saturday in Burnham, N.M. On Oct 31, Navajo Transitional Energy Corporation, signed purchase agreements with BHP-Billiton to acquire Navajo Mine.

If there is anything grassroots organizations like Diné C.A.R.E. find more horrifying than ghosts, witches and goblins this past Halloween, it would have to be the final agreements signed Oct. 31 between BHP Billiton and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company for NTEC's purchase of Navajo Mine.

Diné C.A.R.E., or Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, has opposed the tribe and NTEC's acquisition of Navajo Mine, saying it will subject the Navajo people to unknown liabilities it won't be able to afford.

"I don't think they have the final say," Lori Goodman of Diné C.A.R.E told the Navajo Times on Halloween Day. "Where is the Department of Interior here? They have the trust responsibility."

Goodman and Diné C.A.R.E have protested the tribe's acquisition of Navajo Mine for numerous reasons, including pressuring tribal leaders to wait for the findings of a comprehensive environmental impact statement of the entire mine site and Four Corners Power Plant.


OSM: No significant impact from mine sale

"The tribe's waiver of liabilities in absence of the EIS would subject Navajo people to liabilities we can't afford," Goodman said. "Without the consent of the (DOI) secretary, they can't do anything."

However, on Friday, Nov. 1, the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement found there to be "No Significant Impact" on the quality of the human environment, pursuant to the National Environmental Protection Policy Act of 1969, on the transfer of Navajo Mine to NTEC. The findings by OSM also indicate, according to Rich Williamson, manager for Indian Programs Branch of Western Region-OSM, that a draft environmental impact statement on the transfer permit is not required (see separate story).

Meanwhile, the signing of the final purchase agreements last Thursday between both parties means that the next steps to follow are the owners of the 2,000-megawatt FCPP approving the agreements by the end of November.

And after those approvals, a coal supply agreement between NTEC, as the new coal supplier, and owners of FCPP, which includes Arizona Public Service, would also need to be signed and executed.

The coal supply agreement, once signed, will extend the life of Navajo Mine to 2031, with ownership being transferred to NTEC by Dec. 1, according to a BHP Billiton press release issued last Thursday.

In the news release, Pat Risner, New Mexico Coal Asset President, applauded the execution of the final agreements and also expressed how BHP was pleased to work with the Navajo Nation and NTEC for its acquisition of Navajo Mine.

"BHP Billiton is pleased to have worked with the Navajo Nation to secure the future of the mine and the benefits it provides to the Navajo Nation, employees, communities and other stakeholders," Risner said.

Riser added that BHP Billiton will remain as the manager and operator of Navajo Mine until 2016 on behalf of NTEC.

"The mine will continue to be a significant contributor to the Navajo Nation's and the Four Corners region's economic base," Riser said.

According to Norman D. Benally, media contact for BHP Billiton, the successful completion of the transaction will extend the life of Navajo Mine and FCPP 15 years beyond 2015.

Benally added the extension of Navajo Mine and FCPP also means the continued employment of 800 people at both companies and ensure the Navajo Nation continues to receive revenue from the coal industry that makes about 30 percent of its general fund budget.

"According to a recent study by Arizona State University, it will generate 2,069 direct and indirect jobs and result in an economic contribution of $372 million each year in San Juan County for the period of 2016 to 2031," or over $5.5 billion during that period, Benally said.

Navajo Mine has supplied fuel to FCPP for the last 50 years.

In response to the final purchase agreements being signed by both parties, President Ben Shelly issued a statement on the historical milestone, saying he supports the transfer of Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton to NTEC.

"I support NTEC and their agreement to purchase Navajo Mine from BHP-Billiton," Shelly said. "We have to preserve existing jobs on the Navajo Nation and today NTEC is taking a step in the saving more than 800 jobs and revenue for the Navajo general fund."

Shelly added that with the Navajo Nation Energy Policy recently becoming tribal law and NTEC purchasing Navajo Mine, allows for the tribe to diversify its energy portfolio.

"Our future is stronger with the Energy Policy, and that strength secures the future of Navajo Mine," he said.

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