By Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2020

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - The newest operator of three coal mines has fallen behind on federal and county mineral taxes, federal officials said.

The Navajo Transitional Energy Company owes the federal government more than $10 million in unpaid taxes accrued from mining coal in three Powder River Basin mines in September and October, the Casper Star-Tribune reported Thursday.

The U.S. Interior Department filed a motion in bankruptcy court this month for mining operations at the three mines, officials said.

The company took over the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in Wyoming and the Spring Creek mine in Montana in October from bankrupt coal firm Cloud Peak Energy, officials said. Part of the agreement was that Navajo Transitional Energy Company would pay royalties accumulated since May in payments, but the company fell behind, officials said.

Coal companies must make production royalty payments to the government for all minerals extracted from public land and payments are due the last day of each month following the month the coal is mined, according to federal law.

The company paid about $170,000 to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue in December, according to court documents, but the government is holding the small payment in escrow and not applying it to the amount due.

Navajo Transitional Energy Company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even though Navajo Transitional Energy Company is willing to pay the royalties over time, Cloud Peak Energy is “liable to Interior for timely payment of the royalties, following coal production, as the lessee of the Assumed Federal Leases,” agency officials said.

The Navajo Nation-based firm has not yet obtained the leases for the mines because all past-due royalty payments need to be settled before the government can transfer leases to a new owner, officials said.

Cloud Peak Energy still holds the permits and Navajo Transitional Energy Company will continue to operate as a temporary contract miner until it pays the accrued fees, officials said.

“Approximately half of all the royalties from federal minerals developed within the state of Wyoming come back to Wyoming,” said Shannon Anderson, an attorney with Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group. “We just can’t afford to lose revenue that we are entitled to.”

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