President Shelly signs energy policy, $4.1 million for NTEC to acquire Navajo Mine into law

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 24, 2013

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(Chris Burnside - Navajo Times)

While Speaker of the Navajo Nation Council Johnny Naize looks on, Navajo Nation President, Ben Shelly signs the Navajo Energy Policy of 2013 and resolutions concerning the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC today in Window Rock.

Minutes after Speaker Johnny Naize certified five pieces of legislation that the Navajo Nation Council passed this week, President Ben Shelly signed three of them into law Thursday in his office headquarters.


New energy policy features 'clean coal' production

Those three pieces are the Navajo Nation Energy Policy of 2013, $4.1 million for the purchase of Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal and amendments requested by NTEC and BHP Billiton that Council passed Wednesday night to change the plan of operation of the new energy company to help it acquire Navajo Mine.

Both Naize and Shelly held two separate press conferences – one in front of the Navajo Nation Council Chamber and one in Shelly’s office — in honor of what they both deemed a historical day for Navajo.

The energy policy, which is the first bill Shelly signed, is law that will help guide the tribe in developing both its coal and renewable energy.

"This thing (energy policy) will attract people coming in," the president told Naize, members of the Council and other proponents of the policy at his standing-room-only press conference. "It will move our energy development."

Given that the tribe has a promising future in energy development, Shelly has said energy policy will set the stage and the future for energy within Navajo Nation boundaries. The energy policy specifically focuses on the production of clean coal energy and any of its advancements.

In addition to rescinding a 1980s energy policy, it also sets policy for exploration, development, sustainable management and use of energy resources.

For natural resources corporations like Navajo Oil and Gas Company, the energy policy opens many doors at the national and international levels for the nation to conduct business in the global market, according to Lynette Willie, public relations manager for the tribal oil and gas enterprise.

"It lets the rest of the world know that we’re ready and serious to do business and I think that as Navajo people, as our businesses are thriving, we want to go out and enter into the global market," Willie said.

And for Naize, it’s not just about securing the 800 jobs both at Navajo Mine and at the 2,000 megawatt Four Corners Power Plant — the mine’s main customer — but ensuring the tribe manages its own coal reserves and collects annual taxes and royalties worth millions through NTEC.

"Rejoice, this is a history-making day," Naize said while certifying the pieces of legislation, with Council delegates Mel Begay (Bahastl'ah/Coyote Canyon/Mexican Springs/Naschitti/ Tohatchi) sitting to his right and Roscoe Smith (Crystal/Fort Defiance/Red Lake/Sawmill) to his left. The trio was also joined by Council delegates Joshua Butler (To'Nanees'Dizi) and Resources and Development Committee members George Apachito (Alamo/Ramah/Tóhajiilee) and Charles Damon (Bááháálí/Chichiltah/Manuelito/Rock Springs/Tsayatoh/Tsé Lichíí).

"It’s about time that the Navajo Nation owns its own mine and processes its own coal and possibly be part of the generation of electricity," Naize added. "I understand we have an abundance of coal on the reservation."

The speaker also made it clear that the NTEC resolution also contains a provision requiring it to set aside 10 percent of its profits for renewable energy development.

He credited Smith, vice chair for the Resources and Development Committee, and other members of the RDC, including Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta) and Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/ Littlewater/Ojo Encino/Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake), for helping develop the energy policy.

"His committee did a lot of work and amendments on the energy policy," Naize said.

Naize said the $4.1 million the Council passed Tuesday from the Undesignated Unreserved Fund Balance will be used for NTEC’s operation and the implementation of closing-out agreements for the acquisition of Navajo Mine from BHP.

"The negotiation is still continuing and it’s near finalization," he said. "This will help the NTEC office, the entity, which the nation has developed, this will be their operating budget and whatever needs to do to get the NTEC and the purchase from BHP completed."

Begay sat at the table of the signing ceremony as the speaker pro tem, when Naize sponsored the legislation amending CAP-20-13, the resolution that allowed the tribe to create NTEC in an effort to acquire Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton New Mexico Coal. The acquisition is estimated to be $85 million, with no identified funding source.

Naize said after NTEC was created last spring, they came to the Council asking for amendments to the resolution that created them to allow their "operation to be a lot easier and further increase their plan of operation."

According to the resolution, one of the amendments allows BHP Billiton a waiver from all claims and liabilities from the past, present and future, including unsuspected or unknown liabilities.

Begay added that the passage of the two NTEC resolutions provide an opportunity for the Navajo Nation to move forward in a prosperous fashion and identify itself as a coal owner in the industry.

Speaking on behalf of the RDC Committee, Smith said the energy policy allows the tribe to engage in developing its natural resources, as evidenced by the creation of NTEC to acquire Navajo Mine.

"It is a major decision. There are risks involved but whatever venture an individual takes, there is always that risk," Smith said, adding that with NTEC there is a comfort level which the tribe is taking for itself.

NTEC board member Grant Wood, who also serves on the technical committee for the acquisition, called the moment a "red-letter day."

"We’re going to use the very, very newest development technologies in every place that they can be applied," Wood said.

He said two other scientists on the technical committee – Peter E. Jenkins and Richard Passamaneck – know the significance of NTEC’s acquisition of Navajo Mine.

"We wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for a group of people that are very anxious helping Native peoples anywhere that they’re working to upgrade and better themselves," Wood added.

Norman Benally, media contact for BHP Billiton, who was also present at both press conferences Thursday, applauded the efforts of Council, Naize and Shelly for signing the two NTEC resolutions into law.

Speaking to the two NTEC resolutions, Benally said that BHP Billiton is pleased to engage with the Navajo Nation in securing the future of the Navajo Mine facility and the Four Corners Power Plant, as well as ensuring that employment at both operations continues into the future.

"We are pleased that the Navajo Nation will continue to enjoy the revenues and continue to work toward self-sufficiency," Benally added.

Benally also said that BHP Billiton is looking forward to working with NTEC "hand-in-hand" in ensuring that "we have a very efficient transition period and we continue to work with NTEC and the Navajo Nation."

The President took no action on two other pieces of legislation, the Navajo Housing Authority Reform Act of 2013 and allowing the Navajo Nation Telecommunications Regulatory Committee to implement a 9-1-1 emergency response system within the Navajo Nation, but Naize was confident Shelly would sign them into law.

Shelly has 10 calendar days to sign them into law, veto, or take no action on the pieces of legislation.

"I know the president will sign all the legislations forwarded to him," Naize said.

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