Montana’s largest coal mine has been shut down over permitting issues with the state Department of Environmental Quality.
DEQ has denied an an operating permit to Spring Creek Mine owner Navajo Transitional Energy Company. The company has sent most of its 300 workers home until the dispute is resolved.
At issue is NTEC’s tribal ownership. The company is entirely owned by the Navajo Nation, though not controlled by the tribe. DEQ is asking that NTEC waive sovereign immunity, allowing the tribe to be sued for issues arising at Spring Creek.
“We are shocked and disappointed that the State is taking this position and putting the future of Spring Creek at risk,” said Tim McLaughlin, NTEC chairman, in an announcement Thursday. “We have done everything in our power to ensure the State that we will operate under their laws, but we simply cannot consent to a full waiver of the rights preserved in our treaties — to do so would put the foundations of Indian Country at great risk.”
NTEC recently purchased Spring Creek and two Wyoming mines from Cloud Peak Energy at bankruptcy auction. The new company took possession of the mines Wednesday. In Wyoming, the Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines continue to operate.
Announcing the Spring Creek shutdown Thursday, NTEC said it had agreed to a partial waiver of sovereign immunity, allowing the mine to be regulated under Montana law, but that wasn’t enough.
Spring Creek Mine is located near Decker, just outside the Crow Indian Reservation. In addition to buying Spring Creek, NTEC has development rights to the proposed Big Metal Mine, to which the Crow hold the mineral rights.
Crow Tribal Vice Chairman Carlton “Duke” Goes Ahead has written Montana Democratic Governor Steve Bullock on NTEC’s behalf, asking “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.”