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May 14, 2013 7:23 am

EDITORIAL: Mineral payments belong to states

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Of the many federal budget cuts in recent months, one of the hardest to comprehend is the federal government’s decision to cut mineral payments owed to states.

The U.S. Department of Interior plans to cut 35 states’ share of royalties from the sale of minerals on federal lands, according to The Associated Press. Federal officials say roughly 5 percent cuts, amounting to $110 million, are necessary under sequestration.

In other words, the federal government has failed in cutting its own budget, so now it’s taking money that legally belongs to states.

For some states, the impact of the cut is small — Indiana will lose $187, Arizona’s cut amounts to $759 and North Carolina’s cut is just $7, according to the AP.

For others, the loss is great. Wyoming stands to lose $53 million, more than any other state. New Mexico follows with about $25 million in losses.

To make matters worse for Wyoming, the latest round of cuts comes after Congress blocked $700 million in abandoned mine land (AML) payments over the next 10 years.

The cuts won’t be made without a fight.

Wyoming’s Sen. Mike Enzi is working on legislation to block the federal government from cutting the mineral royalty payments. Enzi is expected to introduce a bill this week.

“The federal government took money that doesn’t belong to it and used the sequester as an excuse,” said Daniel Head, a spokesman for Enzi. “States are guaranteed a share of the billions of dollars in revenue generated from energy production on federal lands, as they bear most of the costs associated with mineral development.”

Enzi also is proposing to allow states to collect mineral royalties directly from companies, avoiding the 2 percent federal collection fee.

The federal budgeting process in recent years — or rather, the lack thereof — has left us with little faith in Washington lawmakers.

Wyoming has been wise to carefully budget and conserve. Thanks to the federal government’s inability to do so, we may lose even more.

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