Navajo company reaches immunity deal with U.S. for coal mines

(Ryan Dorgan | The Casper Star-Tribune | AP file photo) In this Jan. 9, 2014, file photo, rail cars are filled with coal and sprayed with a topper agent to suppress dust at Cloud Peak Energy's Antelope Mine north of Douglas, Wyo. The Navajo Nation will not financially back bonds a tribal energy company needs for a trio of newly acquired coal mines off the reservation, the tribal president said Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, explaining that it's too risky and his administration wants the company to move away from coal. The Navajo Transitional Energy Co. recently bought Montana's largest coal mine and two mines in Wyoming at auction after Cloud Peak Energy declared bankruptcy.

Casper, Wyo. • A Navajo tribal company has reached an agreement that would allow the U.S. government to enforce environmental laws at two coal mines in Wyoming and one in Montana.

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 coal mines it bought following the bankruptcy of Gillette-based Cloud Peak Energy in 2019.

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 three mines, the Casper Star-Tribune reports.

[Read more: Navajo company looks into buying northern Arizona coal mine]

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 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.