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Deadline approaches as Montana officials work with NTEC to keep coal mine open

Montana state officials continue to negotiate with the Navajo Transitional Energy Co. LLC, or NTEC, over operation of the Spring Creek coal mine acquired during the bankruptcy reorganization of Cloud Peak Energy Inc.

A temporary and limited waiver of sovereign immunity agreement between the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and NTEC expires Jan. 8. Rebecca Harbage, the DEQ's public policy director, said Jan. 6 that the two parties are still negotiating the terms of a long-term resolution.

"The main issue in these negotiations is whether NTEC agrees to be bound by the laws of the state of Montana, just as any coal mining company would be, such that Montana and all Montanans are protected," Harbage said. "DEQ is optimistic that we will reach agreement on a short-term resolution prior to Jan. 8 that will allow mining to continue while the parties negotiate a more permanent solution."

Spring Creek was temporarily idled in October 2019 after NTEC took control of the Powder River Basin coal mine due to a disagreement with the DEQ over concerns that the Navajo Nation-owned limited liability company would not waive its sovereign immunity to ensure the agency could enforce state mining laws on the company's property. The DEQ said NTEC assumed ownership of the mine without first receiving its final approval for the day-to-day operation of Spring Creek, but the temporary agreement expiring Jan. 8 allows the mine to continue operation.

NTEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.