The Navajo Transitional Energy Co. (NTEC) filed an answering brief in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, highlighting what they called “efforts of environmental activists to undermine tribal sovereignty protection afforded to NTEC by the Navajo Nation.”

In November 2017, environmental activists, including San Juan Citizen Alliance, Sierra Club, and Dine Care, appealed the decision of an Arizona federal court that had dismissed the citizen groups’ claims based on the immunity provided to the Navajo Nation as a sovereign state and its rights as a sovereign to govern and protect its people.

“This appeal is about the subsistence and self-governance of the Navajo people,” said Clark Moseley, CEO, NTEC. “As an arm of the Navajo Nation, NTEC will fight to protect the economic vitality of the community and the right of the Navajo Nation to make its own decisions related to its resources and its citizens.”

In November, Moseley described the appeal as a “direct attack on the sovereign immunity” of the Navajo Nation.

“NTEC complies with and is required to comply with all U.S. environmental laws and the decision of the Arizona federal court did nothing to alter or diminish those requirements,” he added. “While these citizen groups have made outlandish claims that the court ruling insulates tribal lands from environmental claims, the truth is that the law will not allow these groups to interfere in the legal operations of Navajo Nation enterprises.”

The lawsuit was dismissed in September 2017 by the District Court in Arizona. The case was brought forward by environmental activists and others, and alleged that the U.S. Department of Interior and other federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when the agencies approved a 25-year lease extension, rights-of-ways, and mine expansion.

The court concluded that the challenge by the environmental activists would have effectively circumvented the Navajo Nation’s goals to maintain a revenue source and jobs for the Navajo people. NTEC demonstrated that it, as owner of Navajo mine, is a required party in the lawsuit under Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and that because NTEC is clothed with sovereign immunity, NTEC cannot be joined as a defendant, therefore the case should be dismissed in equity and good conscience. The court agreed with NTEC.