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Navajo company, Montana reach deal to reopen Spring Creek mine for 75 days

Posted at 6:01 PM, Oct 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-28 16:24:20-04

BILLINGS — The Navajo Transitional Energy Company reached a temporary agreement Friday with Montana state regulators to reopen the Spring Creek coal mine in Big Horn County.

The company, which is owned by the Navajo Nation, has agreed to a "limited waiver of sovereign immunity for an interim period" of 75 days, Rebecca Harbage, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's public policy director, told Q2 News.

The waiver of sovereign immunity applies allows the state to enforce environmental laws regarding coal mining, Harbage said. The two sides plan to continue negotiating to reach a full deal, she said.

Navajo Transitional has been recognized as the mine operator but not yet granted a full permit, Harbage said.

"There are still ongoing conversations to be had to transfer the permit to NTEC," she said.

The mine, which is Montana's largest, is currently operating with a reclamation bond paid by the previous owner, Cloud Peak Energy, Harbage said. Montana law requires coal-mine operators pay bonds to cover clean-up costs in the event of a mine closure.

The Spring Creek mine shut down suddenly Thursday, thrusting more than 260 employees into uncertainty. The Navajo Transitional Energy Company had purchased Spring Creek and the Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines in Wyoming from the bankrupt Cloud Peak.

The mine shut down Thursday when the company and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality failed to reached an agreement over tribal sovereignty.

Related: Spring Creek Mine suspends operations