October 29, 2013

Navajo Nation Leaders in New Mexico Sign Energy Bills into Law

Leaders of the Navajo Nation's executive and legislative branches have signed into law several pieces of legislation concerning the tribe's energy future.

In two separate signing ceremonies Thursday in Window Rock, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Navajo Nation Council Speaker Johnny Naize signed the Navajo Nation Energy Policy of 2013.

"It is guidance, a reference to commitment and bringing energy to the Navajo Nation," Naize said during the legislative branch's signing ceremony.

The council passed the energy policy Tuesday. Thirteen members voted in favor of the policy, and six opposed it.

During the signing ceremony, Naize mentioned that on Oct. 18 he signed a bill that gave $4.1 million from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance to the Navajo Transitional Energy Company LLC.

The council approved the bill during the Oct. 16 special session. Shelly signed the bill into law on Thursday.
The funding will cover the tribal enterprise's operating expenses and costs associated with acquiring Navajo Mine from BHP Billiton.

The speaker explained that NTEC is continuing its oversight on the possible mine purchase.

"The negotiations are still continuing, and it's near finalization, so this will help the NTEC office," Naize said.
Naize stepped aside to allow council delegate Mel Begay to sign the bill to amend NTEC's plan of operation.

Begay had to sign the amendments because he served as speaker pro tem when Naize, who sponsored the bill, presented it to the council on Wednesday.

It passed in a vote of 16 in favor and five opposed.

Begay said NTEC's creation gives the tribe an opportunity to develop its economy, utilities and "the development of coal extraction, development and processing."

Delegate Roscoe Smith said if the Navajo Nation buys the mine, it would allow the tribe to determine the future of the coal resource.

"It is a major decision," Smith said. "There are risks involved, but, through the process and whatever adventure that an individual may take, there's always that risk."

Naize highlighted the section that mandates NTEC to invest 10 percent of its profits in the research and development of renewable energy.

"The Navajo Nation doesn't only concentrate on burning coal but also looking at the renewable energy in solar wind and so forth," he said.

After the legislative branch signing ceremony, the bills were delivered to Shelly, who signed them into law in his office that afternoon.

In a press release, Shelly said the energy policy will direct and guide energy development and also better position the tribe to advocate for federal funding.

Updating the 1980 energy policy started three years ago.

A draft version of the policy was presented to the public in 2011, where it received comments. But there were no public hearings on the final version.

"It's been a long journey," Shelly said.

The president previously stated that he would support the tribe acquiring Navajo Mine if the council approved the energy policy and restored interest in the Desert Rock energy project.

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