Obama budget would eliminate AML payments to states
Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund
by Senator Enzi media release
February 27, 2009
Wyoming Delegation blasts budget item that nixes future AML payments
Washington, D.C. - The Wyoming delegation, Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Representative Cynthia Lummis, all R-Wyo., are upset to see an item in President Obama’s budget request that would eliminate all future payments to states from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund if the state has been doing what it promised to do. The delegation is already working to see that the provision doesn’t see the light of day in the Senate and House budgets.
"This is absurd. Wyoming was guaranteed this money years ago. It was supposed to be in a ‘trust fund’, but the federal government took it. Everyone should worry because Social Security is a trust fund too with money paid in for a specific purpose. This is a past obligation and to threaten to take away what we are already owed is outrageous. It seems Washington never tires of picking on the little guy and seeing Wyoming as its cash cow. Whether they want to take away money they owe us from the past or stop paying us what they owe now or in the future, it is absurd. The good thing is that the President’s budget is just a suggestion and a starting point for Congress provided we can see that it goes through the regular and full process. The final numbers will be decided by the House and Senate. I’ll work with my colleagues to see if this provision can be kept out of the Senate budget," said Enzi, a member of the Senate Budget Committee.
"Washington owes Wyoming more than $580 million of accumulated AML funds – it is our money. It should come without strings attached, it is the law of the land. In 2006, after nearly 30 years of bipartisan effort, an agreement was found and signed into law. A commitment was made not to change the bill in middle of the game. The agreement was reached in good faith. Senator Obama voted for this bill," said Barrasso. "I am shocked to see that within a month of becoming President, he would attempt to dismantle what congress, with his support, put into place. I can assure you, that on this issue in Wyoming, the President will see bi-partisanship raised to a new level."
"Sens. Enzi, Thomas, and Rep. Cubin worked for years to force the federal government to release its strangle hold on Wyoming’s AML dollars. They worked across party lines and through geographic differences and their efforts paid off – literally. Wyoming is now receiving roughly $1.6 billion dollars in AML payments over a 15 year period as a result of that legislation. I can say with full confidence that I and Wyoming’s current Congressional Delegation will not rest until President’s Obama’s current AML proposal is buried," said Representative Lummis, member of the House Budget Committee.
Listed as the second bullet point in a paragraph about providing a better return to taxpayers from mineral development on page 79 of the budget it says "Terminating payments to coal-producing States that no longer need funds to clean up abandoned coal mines." Nowhere in the budget does it say that states will be able to forego paying into the AML fund if they do not receive the funding they were promised from the tax that is levied on coal produced in their state.
The money Wyoming would lose if this provision stays in the budget would come from funds already promised to the state. Wyoming currently pays .35 cents per each ton of coal produced in the state into the AML fund. That .35 cents per ton was only extended when Congress promised to pay its debt to Wyoming. Wyoming received just over $100 million dollars from the AML fund in Fiscal Year 2009.
In 1977, when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed, a tax was levied against every ton of coal produced to help clean up coal mines that were abandoned before reclamation laws existed. Half of that tax was promised to states, and the other half went to the federal government to run the Abandoned Mine Land program and direct more money to the states with the largest reclamation needs (primarily eastern states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia).
Unfortunately, money that was promised to Wyoming was not sent back to the state, and money that was supposed to do reclamation was not sent to states with reclamation needs. Instead of on-the-ground projects, the money was kept in Washington, DC, spent on unrelated federal programs or used to make budget numbers look better.
In 2006, Senator Enzi, Senator Thomas, Rep. Barbara Cubin and a bi-partisan group of coal state legislators worked to reauthorize the program so that states would receive their promised share of federal dollars. President Obama’s budget proposes terminating those payments.