New coal firm in Wyoming signs agreement with federal government
A Navajo Nation-based coal operator reached a long-awaited agreement with the U.S. government Tuesday.
February 26, 2020
A Navajo Nation-based coal operator reached a long-awaited agreement with the U.S. government Tuesday, giving federal regulators the authority to enforce mining laws at three Powder River Basin coal mines.
As a tribal entity established under Navajo Nation law, Navajo Transitional Energy Company, or NTEC, has the right to sovereign immunity, or the ability to potentially shield itself from U.S. federal jurisdiction. But under the new agreement, NTEC agreed to a limited waiver of this sovereign immunity — a step that brings the newest coal company to enter Wyoming one step closer to securing permits for some of the largest mines in the nation.
When the company purchased a trio of thermal coal mines outside of the Navajo Nation in October, including two in Wyoming, critics of the deal worried NTEC would have the power to skirt state and federal regulations. But under Tuesday’s agreement, the tribal entity offered to waive that protection, thereby allowing the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to hold it accountable to applicable federal mining and environmental laws, including the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
Since purchasing the Antelope, Cordero Rojo and Spring Creek mines from bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy last year, NTEC has been operating as a contract miner. In order to become a full operator and owner of the mines, it must waive its sovereign immunity and secure mining permits.
“NTEC appreciates the diligence of (the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement) and (the Department of Interior) in moving this process forward,” Clark Moseley, CEO of the coal company, said in a statement. “We especially thank Secretary (David) Bernhardt for understanding the important role mining plays in our economy, while also respecting the sovereignty of NTEC as a tribal entity.”
Tuesday’s agreement comes less than two weeks after NTEC established a similar agreement with Wyoming regulators.
The sale of the coal mines to the out-of-state company prompted significant speculation from energy analysts last year. Many hoped to understand the motivations behind the ambitious acquisition, which made NTEC the third largest coal company in the nation. The purchase has also been met with both optimism and criticism on the Navajo Nation.
NTEC offered to shoulder about $94 million in liabilities from the mines’ former owner when it bought the mines, including millions of dollars in outstanding federal royalties, as well as state and county taxes. It will also be responsible for future reclamation, or cleanup, responsibilities at the sites once the permits transfer. But NTEC has stood by its decision, asserting its benefits for both the Navajo Nation and the U.S.