WINDOW ROCK — During a special session Wednesday, the Navajo Nation Council voted to appropriate $4.1 million to the Navajo Transitional Energy Company.
The council voted 17 in favor of the motion, with two members opposed.
NTEC formed earlier in the year to oversee the tribe's possible acquisition of Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton.
Delegate LoRenzo Bates sponsored the bill and told the council that when NTEC was created, the tribe did not provide any money to cover the company's operating costs.
So far, NTEC board members and its legal counsel have been volunteering their services.
The supplemental funding would come from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance, which sits at $7.7 million.
Bates said the tribe has the next 30 days to make a decision about signing on the dotted line for ownership of the mine, in addition to signing the mine management and the coal fuel agreements.
Like any business start-up, NTEC requires dollars, he said. Bates said that delegates have been asking him for assurance that acquiring the mine would be successful.
His answer was that both BHP Billiton and the Four Corners Power Plant, which receives its coal solely from Navajo Mine, have proven track records of generating coal and burning it for electricity.
Steven Gundersen, NTEC management board chairman, said, "Success cannot be guaranteed, but it's possible."
He later said the mine purchase would be a form of economic independence.
Most comments from delegates on Wednesday voiced support for the bill. But when delegate Lorenzo Curley commented, he said he was upset with Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly for using the line-item veto authority against housing development and improvements for residents in the Bennett Freeze Area and against chapter development projects that were listed in the budget for fiscal year 2014.
Curley said Shelly's action looked "suspicious," and he wondered if the president intentionally used the line-item veto to keep a balance in the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance in order to fund NTEC.
"We sacrificed the housing interest for the Bennett Freeze people," Curley said.
He said comments posted on Facebook asked why delegates were not talking about global warming, especially since world leaders are talking about the issue and are examining ways to reduce reliance on coal.
Prior to the special session, members of Diné CARE spoke against the bill in a press conference in front of the council chamber.
In 2003, Cynthia Dixon moved to her family's land, located two miles south of the mine, in Fruitland.
Since that time, she has noticed changes in livestock, the environment and her health.
Dixon said she was diagnosed with a number of respiratory disease. She also said that she has noticed that the noses of her sheep are black after grazing in the grass, and her jeans are often covered by a black dust.
Additionally, she said she is concerned with the mine's liabilities since it remains unclear which party -- BHP Billiton or the tribe -- would be responsible for the cleanup of the coal ash. And, she said, it's not clear how much it would cost to acquire the mine or how the tribe would pay for it.
"I think purchasing the mine is a bad idea," Dixon said, comparing buying the mine to purchasing an "old junk car."Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.