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Spring Creek mine open again

WINDOW ROCK 

Since Navajo Transitional Energy Company was not willing to sign a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality shut down one of the three mines the company acquired last Thursday. But the Spring Creek Mine, one of the largest coal mines in the country, was open on Monday after NTEC and DEQ agreed on a 75-day limited waiver.

“The interim limited waiver of sovereign immunity agreement was signed by NTEC and Montana DEQ on Friday,” emailed Rebecca Harbage, public policy director for DEQ, to the Times. “It is a limited waiver of NTEC’s sovereign immunity with respect to all laws administered by DEQ. The limited waiver is in effect for an interim period of 75 days, unless both parties agree to extend the interim period. During the interim period, DEQ and NTEC will continue to negotiate the terms of a long-term limited waiver.”

The Spring Creek Mine in Big Horn County, Montana, is one of three mines that Navajo Transitional Energy Company had acquired when they purchased Cloud Peak Energy Inc., the other two being Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming.

Last week, Navajo Nation Council had voted 11-9 to table an emergency legislation to terminate NTEC’s general indemnity agreement, which would have allowed President Jonathan Nez to submit notices of termination to the sureties related to the agreements. This would assure the Navajo Nation wouldn’t be on the hook for any costs relating to the eventual cleanup of the mines.

In 2013, NTEC was a brand new company given the task of purchasing the Navajo Mine and for this to happen NTEC had to obtain the performance and reclamation bonds for the mine. To do this, Council approved a limited waiver of the Nation’s sovereign immunity to be included in the general indemnity agreement. Then in 2015, an amendment was made to extend the same limited waiver to eight additional sureties and their subsidiaries, affiliates and associated companies.

Fast forward to the current NTEC purchase of the three Cloud Peak mines. Each bond for these much larger mines could total between $350 and $400 million.

The legislation stated that the Nation understands that NTEC wants the Nation’s backing on surety bonds for the Cloud Peak Mines, and surety companies are taking the position that the 2013 and 2015 resolutions were all the agreement they need to believe the Nation will cosign for reclamation bonds.

The Navajo Nation does not agree that the bonding entities have the legal authority to use the NTEC General Indemnity Agreements to back the Cloud Peak Mine, because it would mean the Nation’s current leadership would not have a say in the matter.

“They were granted certain authority,” said Nez of NTEC when he was answering delegates’ questions after the State of the Navajo Nation Address. “Maybe if they did it right they would have a good standing.” 

Erny Zah, NTEC communications director, has not responded to questions.



About The Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.