Navajo company, US, reach Tennessee mine site immunity deal

Published 8:39 am Tuesday, March 3, 2020

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Navajo tribal company has reached an agreement that would allow the U.S. government to enforce environmental laws at recently acquired mining properties in Tennessee.

Navajo Transitional Energy Company has agreed to a limited waiver of sovereign immunity, the company announced Tuesday.

As a tribal entity, NTEC normally would be able to claim sovereign immunity and avoid being taken to court. That would prevent government agencies from suing the company to enforce environmental laws at the Tennessee mining properties it acquired following the bankruptcy of Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy in 2019.

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NTEC’s limited waiver of sovereign immunity agreement with the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement would allow the federal agency to enforce laws including the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act at the properties, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.

In the West, NTEC has been operating as a contract miner since purchasing the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek mine in Montana but seeks state permits for the mines.

NTEC agreed to a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on Feb. 13. Sovereign immunity talks with Montana officials are ongoing.

The company also seeks bonding for the Wyoming and Montana mines after the Navajo tribe in November refused to financially back bonds to help ensure the mines’ cleanup should they close. Cloud Peak’s $370 million in bonding for the mines remains in place for now.