BILLINGS — The owner of three struggling Powder River basin coal mines says it's negotiating with a new broker to back the bonds required to keep the mines operating after the Navajo Nation said it's pulling its financial support.
Erny Zah, a spokesman for the Navajo Transitional Energy Company (NTEC), said Wednesday the firm doesn't foresee a closure of the Spring Creek coal mine, Montana's largest, and the Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines of Wyoming.
The future of these newly acquired mines came under a new cloud of uncertainty Tuesday when the leaders of the Navajo Nation, which wholly owns NTEC, announced they were ending agreements to back the reclamation bonds for those mines. Regulators require reclamation bonds upfront to cover the costs of clean up should a mine close.
“We respect the decision of of the Navajo Nation. Regardless, Navajo Transitional Energy Company remains a profitable, viable and successful business entity of the Navajo Nation. We will explore our options to best serve our interests as NTEC and the Navajo Nation,” Zah said.
He added that the company expects to send a more comprehensive statement within the next few days.
In Montana, NTEC is operating the Spring Creek mine under the reclamation bond put up by the previous owner, Cloud Peak Energy. NTEC bought the mines this summer from Cloud Peak after the company had declared bankruptcy.
NTEC is wholly owned by the Navajo Nation and created in 2013 to operate the Navajo mine in New Mexico. Zah said the company operates independently from the tribe, although bonding rates from an outside entity will be more expensive.
The Spring Creek mine has about 280 employees and closed for a day last month because NTEC and Montana regulators ran into problems reaching an operating agreement while respecting tribal sovereignty.
The two sides reached a deal to reopen the mine for 75 days with NTEC as the designated operator, although the full permit has not been transferred from Cloud Peak.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality says the NTEC must first line up the reclamation bonds to replace the existing bonds to obtain a permit.