Operationsat a section of New Mexico's Navajo coal mine have been cleared to resume nearlya year after a court halted development and mining until the U.S. Office of SurfaceMining Reclamation and Enforcement could complete a more thorough environmentalanalysis of the project.
In aMarch 30 decision, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the inchallenging the 2015 decision, effectively vacating and dismissing the case entirely.
The decisionapplies to expansion plans for the mine's Area IV North area, which 704 acres and would yield about12.8 million more tons of coal for the mine.
The initialcase stemmed from a from environmental advocacygroups who argued that the OSMRE had not considered the environmental impacts ofburning coal from the mine when it approved the expansion. A district court judgeruled March 2, 2015, that this had occurred and ordered both sides of the case tofind a solution.
Whenthey failed to reach an agreement, the judge vacated OSMRE's environmental assessmentof the project and Findings of No Significant Impact determination "pendingOSM's compliance with NEPA,"
The NTECpromised to appeal.
However,pending the appeal, the OSMRE issued a revised environmental assessment and FONSI,as well as reapproving the permit, rendering the issue "constitutionally moot."
Accordingto a statement released by the NTEC, the vacating of the court's decision "meansthat the district court's decisions are no longer binding on the Office of SurfaceMining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and cannot be used as persuasive authorityin future challenges to OSMRE permitting decisions."
"NTECis very pleased with this outcome on appeal. As a company of a sovereign nation,we can continue doing work to secure Navajo Nation's self-determined future,"said NTEC CEO Clark Moseley. "The unfortunate decision of the Colorado DistrictCourt last year is no longer on the books, and NTEC can now move on with its operationson behalf of the Navajo Nation."
Overthe last year, the NTEC estimated that the halt in operations had cost it approximately$2 million while the section of the mine was inoperable.
Accordingto data compiled by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Navajo mineincreased production in 2015 from the previous year, growing from about 1.1 milliontons in the second quarter to 1.7 million tons in the third quarter, after the court'sdecision halting operations in a section of the mine. For 2015, the Navajo mineproduced about 5.3 million tons of coal.
The NTECis a tribe-sponsored entity that was created to purchase the Navajo mine from . The mine's solecustomer is the Four Corners power plant near Farmington, N.M.