Last August, NTEC announced a deal to acquire three enormous mines in Wyoming and Montana from bankrupt Cloud Peak Energy for about $100 million and the assumption of all cleanup costs. The acquisition increased NTEC’s coal output more than tenfold to nearly 60 million tons, 9% of total U.S. tonnage, making the Navajo America’s third-largest coal miner.

Tribal leaders were shocked. NTEC, although owned by the tribe, was set up as a semiautonomous organization. It wasn’t required to consult with the tribe on the purchase—and it didn’t. While NTEC plans to create revenue from this acquisition, it faces a decline in coal usage in the U.S. The inexorable death of the Navajo coal industry began nearly two decades ago, when California decided that power generated by burning coal was too dirty to use. Neighboring states followed that lead. Across the U.S., the amount of coal being burned in power plants is at a 42-year low.

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How The Navajo Became America’s Third-Largest Coal Producer | Forbes