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Deal reached to keep open Montana's largest coal mine

Posted at 10:03 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 00:44:10-04

Montana regulators said Thursday they've reached an agreement to keep the Spring Creek coal mine open for now, but the mine's new owners still need to buy $110 million in reclamation bond to acquire a permanent permit.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company, or NTEC, has agreed to expand its waiver of sovereign immunity to include all obligations enforce by the state of Montana, state Department of Environmental officials said in a news release.

NTEC is an independent firm owned by the Navajo Nation, which meant it could have been exempt from certain cleanup requirements because of tribal treaty law.

The mine, Montana's largest, was operating under a temporary agreement that was set to expire Friday. Spring Creek in Big Horn County has about 260 employees.

NTEC bought Spring Creek and two Wyoming mines, Antelope and Cordero Rojo, last summer from the bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy. The mine shut down for a day because NTEC was unable to immediately obtain an operating permit until the two sides worked out a temporary deal.

NTEC remain a contract operator of the mine. To obtain a full permit from Cloud Peak, the company must put up the $110 million bond, which would cover clean-up costs should the mine close.

Leaders of the Navajo Nation have said they won't back these bonds, but officials at NTEC, which operates independently from the tribe, say they're seeking new investors.

The Department of Environmental Quality also issued a final environmental impact statement on a proposed expansion project, which would add 977 acres and increase the life of the mine by four years.

Read the statement here.