Montana extends agreement with NTEC for Spring Creek coal mine
The Navajo Transitional Energy Co. (NTEC) and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality have reached an agreement that will keep the Spring Creek coal mine in Big Horn County, MT operating for another 65 days. The agreement comes as a previous 75-day interim waiver of sovereign immunity between the state and Navajo Nation-backed coal mine operator was set to expire.
At issue is how much of NTEC’s tribal immunity as a Native corporation will be waived so the state can ensure the company will be responsible for reclaiming mined land and following state and federal environmental regulations.
Negotiations between the entities have been productive. “I’d say, generally, we’re making headway and I think we’ll have some sort of solution by (Wednesday),” said Rebecca Harbage, a spokeswoman for the Montana DEQ told the Wyoming Business Report.
NTEC bought the Spring Creek Mine, along with the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Campbell County, WY from bankrupt Powder River Basin coal operator Cloud Peak Energy. When NTEC took over as the official operator of the mine in late October and without an agreement with Montana, the mine was shut down abruptly and remained closed for two days while the company and state hammered out the 75-day temporary agreement.
Since that time, negotiations have been positive, Harbage said.
“We’re really looking to expand (the immunity) a little bit,” Harbage said. “The first waiver, we were under a lot of pressure and the mine was shut down, but there are other agencies in the state that have concerns.”
Some of those include the Departments of Labor, Natural Resources and Revenue, she said, adding that any limited waiver of sovereign immunity “will be limited to the operation of the mine.”
Before accepting NTEC as a contractor responsible for day-to-day operations at Spring Creek, DEQ requires the limited waiver to issue a permit to mine.
“We are committed to continuing our conversations with NTEC to ensure that NTEC’s affiliation with the Navajo Nation is duly recognized and respected, while also ensuring that the state-issued permits for the mine are fully enforceable, on par with any other coal mine operating under state laws,” said DEQ director Shaun McGrath. “This is a unique and complex issue that requires us to be deliberate in our approach to avoid any unintended consequences. We appreciate NTEC’s commitment to working through these issues with us.”
Wyoming doesn’t need NTEC to waive sovereign immunity as long as it’s operating as a subcontractor, said Keith Guille, spokesman for the Wyoming DEQ.
“From our standpoint, they are operating with a license to mine, but the permit is still held by Cloud Peak,” he said.
Like Montana, NTEC will need to come to an agreement with the state to get a permit to mine in its name. For both states, that also means assuming the federal coal leases attached to the mines and securing more than $400 million in reclamation obligations, about $300 million for Antelope and Cordero Rojo and more than $108 million for Spring Creek.