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September 27, 2012 11:47 am

EDITORIAL: Abandoned Mine Land money owed to Wyoming

Written by Ilene Olson

Congress appears to be playing Robin Hood in reverse with Wyoming’s share of federal Abandoned Mine Land payments, choosing to take 90 percent of AML payments owed to the state and leave that money in federal coffers instead — effectively robbing Wyoming to help itself.

The U.S. Senate on Saturday voted to block $700 million in AML payments to Wyoming over the next 10 years, cutting the state’s AML payments from about $150 million per year to $15 million annually.

Wyoming’s senators, Republicans Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both voted against the measure. They and U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., joined state leaders in decrying the AML cut.

“The money in the AML trust fund isn’t an ATM for the federal government,” Enzi said. “If you’re going to tax our coal, you sure better be ready for a share of that money to stay in the state. We will take every opportunity to restore what was promised to Wyoming.”

Mead noted that Wyoming produces the most coal of any state in the nation.

As Gov. Matt Mead put it, “... we’re a long way from fairness when you cut out the state that’s contributing the most to the fund by far. And that is not a way to build a consensus; that is sort of a divide and conquer.”

Gov. Matt Mead and Sen. Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, said that loss would devastate state energy research programs.

Abandoned Mine Lands fund are taxes paid by mining companies for extracting coal, with a large chunk of that money designated for the states from which the minerals were extracted.

According to The Associated Press, President Barack Obama has pushed for years to cut AML payments to states such as Wyoming, which receives more from the program than it currently needs for cleaning up abandoned coal mines.

Both houses of Congress this summer voted to limit all states to $15 million a year of AML funding. Congress later amended the action to raise some other states’ AML funding — but kept the cap in place for Wyoming.

It’s worth noting that Congress isn’t suggesting that those companies keep their money; merely that nearly all of Wyoming’s share will remain with the federal government rather than being returned to Wyoming.

The vote is a blow to Wyoming at a time when state agencies already are budgeting for cuts of up to 8 percent due to reduced revenue to the state from low natural gas prices, coupled with their downward effect on the price of coal.

Congress seems to be picking and choosing which bills it will pay, while it simultaneously imposes increasing numbers of unfunded mandates on state governments.

This is just one more example of Congress’ willingness to run over states’ rights, and of the growing disconnect between the federal government and life in Wyoming.

“This fight is far from over,” Barrasso vowed. “We’ll continue to pursue every opportunity to fully restore the money that belongs to the people of Wyoming.”

1 Comment

  • Comment Link September 28, 2012 7:16 am posted by Salty Dawg

    Yep,Republicans sure do like that free money,yet they moan about those freeloading Liberals.

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