CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Navajo tribal energy company officials say they're confident they can secure necessary bonding for recently purchased coal mines in Wyoming and Montana.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez announced Tuesday the tribe would not financially back the bonds for the Navajo Transitional Energy Co., saying they would be too risky.
The Navajo Nation didn’t sign off on the purchase. NTEC argues no pre-approval was needed.
“Many experts question the viability of expanding our interests in a coal market that appears to be dwindling,” Nez said in a statement Tuesday. “We will not support initiatives that attempt to circumvent or undermine the laws and policies of our nation.”
NTEC Governmental and External Affairs Director Steve Grey said Wednesday he's confident the company can still get the roughly $400 million in reclamation bonds.
Grey told reporters by phone the company has enough potential collateral, including a coal mine outside Farmington, New Mexico.
The bonds would ensure the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and Spring Creek mine in Montana could be cleaned up if they ever closed.
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NTEC bought the mines from Cloud Peak Energy, which is going through bankruptcy.
Spring Creek mine is Montana’s largest coal mine, employing 300 people. In late October, the mine briefly shut down over concerns that Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality would not be able to hold accountable a company that has tribal sovereignty rights. NTEC has been asked to waive its tribal sovereignty before receiving an operating permit. The mine continues to run under the permit and bond of Cloud Peak Energy.
The announcement was the latest development in a tumultuous year for the Powder River Basin coal region, which produces more coal than any other in the U.S. Three companies with mines in the basin have filed for bankruptcy and two other major players, Arch and Peabody, announced they would merge basin operations.
The Cloud Peak deal made NTEC the third-largest coal producer in the U.S. Antelope is the third-largest coal mine in the U.S., while Spring Creek ranks eighth and Cordero Rojo is 11th.
About 1,200 people are employed at the mines, which combined produced almost 50 million tons of coal last year.
The mines continue to operate with Cloud Peak as their state permit holder.
Jill Morrison with the Powder River Basin Resource Council landowner advocacy group said Wednesday she was keeping a close eye on the NTEC bonding developments.
"We're just in new territory with all of these coal companies going bankrupt and trying to shed the liability of the coal mines and the reclamation," Morrison said.