During a special session Oct. 16, council members voted to use $4.1 million from the Navajo Nation's Unreserved, Undesignated Fund Balance (UUFB) to complete negotiations for the acquisition of Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton.
Legislation sponsor Council Delegate LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad, Newcomb, San Juan, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tse'Daa'Kaan, Upper Fruitland) said the mine acquisition would be a successful venture, citing the track record of BHP Billiton and the Four Corners Power Plant to generate and burn coal for electricity, the "dedicated" and "skilled" workforce already in place at both sites and the Nation's nearly one-hundred year supply of coal.
He added technology will continue to advance to provide cleaner methods of coal energy production.
"Technology will show that in some point in time, coal will become a much more valuable resource. There is a future for coal," Bates said.
Voicing opposition to the bill, Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley (Houck, Klagetoh, Nahata Dziil, Tsé Si áni, Wide Ruins) said he is disappointed in President Ben Shelly's veto of $3 million from the Nation's UUFB for projects in the Former Bennett Freeze Area.
"The president vetoed money for Bennett-Freeze because he wanted money for this," said Curley. "What I see is that we sacrificed housing interests for the Bennett Freeze."
Council Delegate Danny Simpson (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse'ii'ahi, Whiterock) said he supports "green" energy development. He said the Nation would lose $70-$80 million annually, including one-third of revenues for each of the Nation's 110 chapters, if the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant closed.
"I'm pro-green but there has to be a transition," Simpson said. "It's not going to happen overnight and it's not going to happen two years from now."
Also speaking in favor of the legislation, Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Black Mesa, Forest Lake, Hardrock, Pinon, Whippoorwill) described the proposed mine acquisition as a way of maximizing the Nation's revenue based on its resources, while providing the opportunity to transition to renewable energy.
"I don't like coal in terms of its health impacts," Witherspoon said. "The creation of NTEC has within its parameters that they have to use their profits to transition, specifically at least 10 percent of their profit revenue, to renewable energy development. It costs money to make that kind of transition, as well. "
At the conclusion of the two hour discussion, council members approved the legislation 17-2.
The bill now goes to Shelly for review and consideration.