Navajo leaders won’t financially back Montana, Wyoming coal mines

(KPAX) Leaders of the Navajo Nation announced Tuesday they are pulling the tribe’s financial backing of three newly acquired coal mines in Montana and Wyoming, sparking more uncertainty over the mines’ future.

In a written statement, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer questioned the long-term future of coal and said the tribe should instead focus investments in renewable energy.

The announcement does not halt operations at the Spring Creek mine, Montana’s largest coal mine, and the Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines of Wyoming. A tribal-owned firm, Navajo Transitional Energy Company, bought the mines from the bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy in August.

The Spring Creek mine is continuing to operate under a $108.8 million reclamation bond provided by Cloud Peak, said Rebecca Harbage, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality public policy director.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company must pay a 1 percent annual fee to maintain the reclamation bond, and the company has not indicated it will stop making payments, she said. Harbage added that she’s uncertain when the next payment is due.

Montana state law requires mining companies to post a reclamation bond to cover the costs of cleaning up the site should the mine close.

The Spring Creek mine abruptly shut down Oct. 24 after Navajo Transitional Energy Company failed to reach a deal with Montana regulators over tribal sovereignty with regards to mining oversight by the state. The two sides reached a deal the next day to temporarily reopen for 75 days.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company is wholly owned by the tribe, although it’s managed by its own board of directors. According to Indian Country Today, the company has insisted it is not wholly controlled by the tribes and can make decision on its own, including buying the former Cloud Peak mines. The company was formed in 2013 to operate the Navajo Mine on the tribe’s land in Arizona.

The purchase of the Cloud Peak was the tribe’s first foray into the coal business off its reservation.

The leaders of the Navajo Nation also demanded in their statement more transparency from Navajo Transitional Energy Corp., noting they only learned of the mines’ acquisition by a press release from the company

“NTEC has not provided the Nation’s leaders with detailed information regarding its financial performance and outlook, so we should not be placed in a position to provide financial backing for NTEC without that critical information,” they said.

In response, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company issued its own statement:

“We respect the decision of the Navajo Nation. Regardless, Navajo Transitional Energy Company remains a profitable, viable and successful business entity of the Navajo Nation. As such we will explore our options to best serve our interests as NTEC and the Navajo Nation,” the company said, according to The Navajo Times.