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Mont. regulators, Navajo Transitional Energy extend sovereign immunity waiver

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Navajo Transitional Energy Co. LLC reached a 65-day extension on an interim limited waiver of sovereign immunity that will allow the Spring Creek coal mine to remain open.

In October, the department and the coal producer, or NTEC, agreed to the limited waiver until a long-term solution could be reached. The company needs a limited waiver of the tribal immunity to enable the department or the public to enforce compliance with state laws, according to an October 2019 release from the department. The department required NTEC to accept such a waiver before allowing it to take over operations at the mine.

The recent extension gives both parties time to negotiate, the department said in a Jan. 7 release. Shaun McGrath, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, said the complex issue will require deliberations to ensure there are no unintended consequences.

"We are committed to continuing our conversations with NTEC to ensure that NTEC's affiliation with the Navajo Nation is duly recognized and respected, while also ensuring that the state-issued permits for the mine are fully enforceable, on par with any other coal mine operating under state laws," McGrath said.

The department is working with the company to transfer a permit for the operation, a move that will require NTEC to secure more than $108 million in reclamation bonds and mineral lease transfers.

NTEC has not responded to recent requests for comments on its negotiations with state officials.