On July 29, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit and affirmed Navajo Transitional Energy Co.’s (NTEC) right to assert sovereign immunity. The lawsuit attempted to challenge the approval of a 25-year mine lease extension of the Four Corners power plant and Navajo mine in New Mexico.

The three-judge panel of the appellate court unanimously upheld a September 2017 U.S. District Court dismissal of a lawsuit brought forth by Dine CARE, the Sierra Club and others against various agencies in the Department of Interior. The suit was dismissed after NTEC successfully argued that it should be allowed to intervene as a required party to the lawsuit. It claimed NTEC is entitled to assert sovereign immunity against claims such as this. NTEC argued the entire case must be also dismissed. The federal district court agreed, and after allowing NTEC to intervene, dismissed the case.

“The Navajo Nation’s interest is tied to its very ability to govern itself, sustain itself financially, and make decisions about its own natural resources,” Circuit Judge Michelle Friedland wrote.

The court upheld the dismissal.

In addition, the appellate court agreed with previous NTEC arguments that NTEC needed to be named as a party to the litigation. The court held that because no other party to the litigation, including the Department of Interior, could adequately represent NTEC’s interest, the district court found that NTEC must be joined to the lawsuit.

“We are pleased with the well-reasoned decision of the court affirming Navajo self-determination,” NTEC CEO Clark Moseley. “We are always concerned with outside groups or influences attempting to force their views on the Navajo. With this decision, NTEC can continue to provide economic opportunities for the Navajo people, secure funding for the operation of the Navajo Nation, and promote transitional energy opportunities.”