The $600 Million Washington Insult
Guest Editorial by Senator John Barrasso
by Senator John Barrasso
December 7, 2007
Washington bureaucrats have once again insulted the people of Wyoming. At stake – six hundred million dollars of the State’s money. These funds, part of the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) payments are morally and legally owed to Wyoming. Yet the faceless federal bureaucrats from the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) continue to extend their reach into the operation of our state.
Of all the players, Wyoming has the most to lose. We have been routinely mistreated; regrettably it seems, intentionally so. The handling of this issue, by both Republican and Democrat administrations, over three decades, should outrage the citizens of Wyoming.
OSM Director Brent Wahlquist, despite assurances to the contrary, has decreed – via internal memo - that AML payments be made in the form of “simplified grants” rather than by direct distribution. This is despite lump sum payments being mandated by federal law. Senator Enzi, Senator Tester (D-MT), and I met with Director Wahlquist this week for an explanation. We left convinced there is no such thing as a “simplified” federal grant.
The funding flows of the AML program are complex. The intent of this law is not. The concept that, once collected, these funds rightly belong to the States and Indian Tribes is indisputable. It is our money. It appears OSM has been working from the beginning toward an obstructionist position.
Only in Washington can the language “payments … shall be made in 7 equal annual installments” be manipulated into a federal government grant program. This grant program would potentially include hundreds or even thousands of unequal payments, not 7 equal payments. OSM’s directive is offensive and absurd. OSM went looking for a legal loophole. After a year of search – the bureaucratic machine of Washington found the result they wanted.
The rationale used by OSM is maddening. They concede that “OSM has neither a basis to disapprove expenditures that have been selected by the State legislature or Tribal council nor a programmatic interest in how the funds are used.” Nonetheless, they apparently felt it appropriate to clasp their greedy, interventionist Washington hands on our money.
So what’s next? Well, the OSM directive was correct with two points regarding the disadvantages of this irrational policy: (1) Some states, particularly Wyoming, are very vocal in their opposition to using grants and (2) There may be legislative efforts to mandate direct payments.
Whether it is a long-term or short-term fix, I will be fighting to get something adopted before the end of 2007. If that bi-partisan effort is unsuccessful, I will work hand-in-hand with Senator Enzi, the Governor and my former legislative colleagues to secure the money that belongs to Wyoming. I will exhaust every available avenue and if necessary will legislate to put a stop to these bureaucratic shenanigans.
My passion and outrage on this issue is shared by many in our state. Six hundred million dollars is a vast sum of money that belongs to us. Current and former Wyoming congressional delegations have worked hard for these funds to be paid in a timely and appropriate manner. The recent action by the OSM is nothing short of an insult to the people of the state of Wyoming.