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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Transitional Energy Company has finalized its ownership of coals mines in Wyoming and in Montana.

In August, NTEC purchased the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek Mine in Montana from Cloud Peak Energy, which filed bankruptcy earlier in the year.

The acquisition was completed on Oct. 23, according to an Oct. 24 press release by NTEC.

The release mentions that while the company hoped for a smooth transition for the mining operations, the Spring Creek Mine has stopped production due to permitting issues with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The department denied an operating permit this week to NTEC, which is an enterprise of the Navajo Nation.

The department is seeking a limited wavier of sovereign immunity to comply with state environmental laws regarding mining operations and reclamation.

Both parties are continuing to discuss the matter, according to the release.

Spring Creek Mine is located near the Montana and Wyoming state line and it is the largest mine operation in the state, according to the DEQ.

The Billings Gazette reported that 300 workers are affected by the closure.

NTEC stated in its release that it will continue to work with the DEQ to resolve the matter.

In an Oct. 23 letter by the DEQ, the department stated it is not "disparaging or diminishing the efforts of NTEC to provide DEQ an acceptable waiver."

Navajo Nation Council tables NTEC legislation

The Navajo Nation Council tabled an emergency legislation that called for ending the general indemnity agreements for NTEC in light of the purchases from Cloud Peak Energy.

NTEC was established in April 2013 to purchase the Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal Company.

For NTEC to secure performance and reclamation bonds, both required to complete the purchase, the Navajo Nation Council approved in December 2013 a limited waiver of sovereign immunity to be included in the general indemnity agreements with the Zurich American Insurance Company and Arch Insurance Company.

In 2015, the council amended the December 2013 resolution to extend the limited waiver of sovereign immunity to eight additional companies associated with the Navajo Mine purchase.

With NTEC purchasing the three mines from Cloud Peak Energy, the company must obtain reclamation bonds, totaling between $350 million to $400 million, according to the legislation.

Delegates Vince James and Carl Slater introduced the bill as an emergency while the council met this week for the fall session.

Both stated that the general indemnity agreements cannot be used to cover the reclamation bonds needed for the mines in Wyoming and Montana because it would affect the tribe's finances and NTEC must seek new approval from the tribe for backing new bonds.

The council discussed the bill the evening of Oct. 23 and ended up approving a tabling motion for further review of documents related to the matter. They have up to 30 days to reconsider the bill.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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