Temporary agreement will keep Spring Creek Mine operating

October 28, 2019

Officials from Montana and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) reached a temporary agreement that will keep the Spring Creek coal mine open amid a legal dispute.

On Oct. 24, NETC shut down the mine after Montana regulators insisted the company waive its immunity as a tribal entity from future lawsuits. NETC acquired the mine, along with two others in the Powder River Basin from Cloud Peak Energy. The company argued that it should be immune from future lawsuits for environmental violations or reclamation costs because the company is wholly-owned by the Navajo Nation and should therefore maintain sovereign rights.

The Associated Press reported that The two sides agreed on a 75-day, limited waiver of immunity for the company following two days of negotiations said Montana Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Rebecca Harbage.

The waiver allows the state to enforce environmental laws at the mine, located near the town of Decker along the Montana-Wyoming border. State laws allow the company to be sued over future environmental violations or mine reclamation costs.

Negotiations will continue over the state's request for a permanent waiver and unresolved questions about reclamation bonds for the mine, Harbage said.

"We expect NTEC to continue to come to the table to talk about a long-term solution," she said.

Spring Creek is Montana's largest coal mine. It produced almost 14 million tons of the fuel last year.

Company representatives have said they won't agree to a full waiver of their treaty rights.

CEO Clark Moseley said in a statement that the company appreciated efforts by the state to keep Spring Creek working.

"We are thankful that we were able to reach a mutually agreeable position and look forward to continuing to build on a strong partnership with the state of Montana," he said.

Department of Environmental Quality Director Shaun McGrath said “better planning and coordination” by the company could have prevented the shutdown.

 Photo credit: Cloud Peak Energy

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