As this edition was going to press, the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. (NTEC) had finalized its acquisition of the Spring Creek mine in Montana and the Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines in Wyoming. NTEC purchased the mines from Cloud Peak Energy (CPE) during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The transaction makes NTEC the third-largest coal producer in the country.

“With the acquisition of these mines, NTEC is thrilled to become a neighbor and important employer in Montana and Wyoming,” Clark Moseley, president and CEO of NTEC, said at the time the deal closed. “We look forward to working with the existing team of 1,200 employees and implementing our exceptional record of safety, reclamation and community partnership in the Powder River Basin.”

The Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines are the third- and fifth-largest coal mines in the country, respectively. Spring Creek has made headlines as a coal exporter and NTEC said it planned to take full advantage of its export capacity at Westshore Terminals. Moseley said he was looking forward to working with all the new partners to return these mines to profitability, but they hit a snag with Spring Creek.

NTEC is a single-member limited-liability company organized under the laws of the Navajo Nation, which owns the Navajo mine, near Fruitland, New Mexico. NTEC operates the Navajo mine pursuant to a limited waiver of sovereign immunity and has won numerous awards for its safety and reclamation record, including awards from the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the National Mining Association (NMA). This year alone, NTEC and Bisti Fuels LLC received three different awards, including the Sentinels of Safety award from the NMA, the Good Neighbor Award from the OSM, and the 2019 Excellence in Reclamation award by the New Mexico Mining Association.

An impasse with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) over sovereign immunity has resulted in the shuttering of operations at Spring Creek — putting people out of work. Despite months of productive conversations with the agency, the DEQ demanded a full and complete waiver of sovereign immunity from NTEC. NTEC offered a partial waiver, allowing the company to be regulated by Montana under any and all state laws. Carlson Goes Ahead, vice chairman of the Crow Tribe of Indians, wrote a letter to Montana Gov. Steve Bullock requesting that “the state of Montana maintain consistency in its relations amongst tribes and extend NTEC the same comity and respect it has shown to tribal nations located within the state.”

Montana DEQ and NTEC reached a short-term agreement that will allow coal production at Spring Creek to resume. The interim agreement will keep the mine operating for 75 days while the two parties continue negotiating a long-term agreement.