Montana, Navajo company reach deal on mine to waive immunity
The Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC) and state officials in Montana have reached a deal that will allow the state to enforce environmental laws at the Spring Creek coal mine while also approving preliminary plans for an expansion of the mine.
The two sides have struggled to resolve demands that NTEC waive its immunity from future lawsuits because of its tribal status. The mine shut down briefly in October when the dispute over sovereignty first emerged. The Associated Press reported that this agreement came a day before a temporary waiver agreement was set to expire.
NTEC bought the 275-worker Spring Creek strip mine along the Wyoming border and two mines in Wyoming last year from bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy. As a sovereign tribal entity, NTEC argued that it could not be sued in state court. The ability for states to hold companies accountable for environmental violations is a key enforcement tool for mining industry regulators.
Chief executive officer Clark Moseley said in a statement that the company was “extremely pleased to have the final limited waiver in place."
The agreement does not change the company's status as a “contract operator” of Spring Creek under the mine's existing permit held by Cloud Peak. Before the permit can be transferred, the NTEC must acquire bonds sufficient to cover an estimated $110 million in future reclamation costs.
Spring Creek is Montana's largest coal mine. It produced almost 14 million tons of the fuel in 2018, ranking it the eighth largest mine in the U.S. in terms of coal production.
In a separate action, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality also on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a 977-acre expansion of Spring Creek.
The expansion includes about 65 Mt (72 million st) of coal and would extend the life of the mine by about four years, to approximately 2031. Final approval is pending.
The Navajo Transitional Energy Corporation in February reached a deal with Wyoming regulators that waived immunity for the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines.