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Navajo Nation-Owned Company Overcomes Mining Permit Roadblock

The Cordero Rojo Mine - taken when Cloud Peak was still the operator
Cloud Peak Energy

Governor Mark Gordon and the Navajo Transitional Energy Company have agreed to a Limited Waiver of Sovereign Immunity. The move resolves a barrier for the Navajo Nation-owned corporation in acquiring its mining permits.

Back in October, NTEC paid the recently bankrupt coal company Cloud Peak Energy in order to assume operations of three mines: Cordero Rojo, Spring Creek, and Antelope.
But soon after, the Spring Creek in Montana had to close as the state's Department of Environmental Quality refused to issue a mining permit to NTEC because the two parties hadn't agreed on a limited waiver of the company's sovereign immunity. In a leaked e-mail, it became clear Wyoming regulators had similar concerns.

Without a waiver, there was concern NTEC could use its sovereign immunity to protect itself from future liabilities or even violate the law.

The terms of the limited waiver ensure compliance with all applicable state laws and regulations relating to the company's Wyoming mines.

"This agreement ensures that Wyoming retains the right and ability to enforce state laws, including administrative procedures and collection of fines," said Bernard Masters, NTEC General Counsel. "The agreement also respects NTEC's status as a wholly owned entity of the sovereign Navajo Nation."

In a press release, Governor Mark Gordon said the agreement is the result of negotiations stemming back to September.

"This agreement now clears a pathway for NTEC to take the necessary steps to apply for the transfer of permits to mine at the Antelope, Cordero Rojo and Young's Creek coal mines," he said.

Challenges remain for NTEC though. The company initially expected to use the Navajo Nation to back its surety bonds, which guarantee reclamation. Back in November, Navajo Nation leadership announced that would not be the case.

Then, Steve Grey, director of governmental and external affairs for NTEC, said, "It's not the end of the world. Like any big major business transaction, you just have to work through these different issues that arise in the transaction. And so, we feel very good and confident about everything."

The company still needs to acquire bonding to secure a state permit transfer.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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