From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 7, Number 37 - December 6, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Legislature is through but where is Wyoming’s money?
Abandoned Mine Lands money still not disbursed to state
by Tiffany Turner

Decades ago, when Wyoming adopted an Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program, they were guaranteed money from the federal government.

For years, Wyoming has not received the full amount owed to them, and an accumulated amount of roughly $550 million had not come to the state. With much leadership from Sen. Mike Enzi, legislation has been put through that will allow Wyoming to collect the money owed. “For decades the federal government has failed to pay Wyoming its full entitlement under the AML program,” Gov. Dave Freudenthal said in an editorial release this week. “Currently, the state is owed approximately $600 million. Thanks to a congressional action, largely prompted by Sen. Enzi, Wyoming should begin to receive seven annual payments of approximately $85 million each.”

“The challenge for us now is to develop a sober, targeted plan to invest this resource,” Freudenthal added. “Barring some last-minute fancy roping and trick riding by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and/or the Office of Management and Budget, Wyoming’s first payment should arrive in December 2007 or early 2008.”

According to Freudenthal, due to past dealings with funding promises, the only action taken thus far has been to establish an account that can receive the funds when they come.

Getting the money will be the next step; however, this has become more convoluted than previously planned. The federal government now wishes to pay the money back in grants. Enzi does not see this as a viable option.

“Whistle, bell, crystal – take your pick,Congress was clear last year,” Enzi said in a recent release. “The federal government must repay Wyoming the hundreds of millions of dollars our state is owed in AML money. The federal government is not bound by law to do so and it should be through direct payments, not through grants and not with strings.”

According to Enzi, in 2006 amendments were made to the AML program that ensured the $550 million-plus was paid and to ensure that future payments of roughly $1.1 billion be received over the next 15 years. Since that time, departments have been working together to draft the rules by which the program will operate.

“My staff and I have been in attentive contact with officials at the appropriate agencies since the passage of the AML legislation,” Enzi said. “In each of those meetings, I have reminded them that I drafted the bill and that Congressional intent is clear – the money should come to Wyoming in the form of a direct payment.

“If the money is released in a grant form, money that is owed to Wyoming will not gain interest in our state’s treasury and will instead sit in the federal treasury until immediately before Wyoming starts to write the check to spend the money. Those who suggest that the grant process is correct argue that the intent of Congress is unclear and that it must be interpreted.”

“That’s bureaucratic Washington speak and it’s politically incorrect,” Enzi added. Enzi added that, as a member who drafted the final version of the AML bill that was signed, he is the perfect representative to interpret the intent.

“The administration should follow the law and ensure Wyoming receives our money in the manner it was intended – direct payments,” Enzi said. “Until OSM releases its rule, I will continue to meet with officials with the appropriate departments to discuss this matter.”

“If the final rule misinterprets Congressional intent, I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Wyoming delegation and in the Senate to ensure Wyoming gets this money that was hijacked by the federal government years ago,” Enzi added.

Freudenthal is spending his time trying to determine a responsible use for the money once it is received. In his release, Freudanthal stated his recommendation that the funds be dedicated to making Wyoming a “leader in research and development of clean coal technologies” and build upon “the recent formation of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources.”

There are three reasons for this recommendation,” Freudenthal said. “One, the funds originate from an abandoned mine land tax paid on a per-ton basis by the coal producers. It is entirely appropriate to use these funds to advance our energy interests.

“Two, the emphasis on CO2 capture and sequestration in the coal marketplace necessitates significant investment in the development and demonstration of clean coal technologies. Three, Wyoming, as the nation’s top coal producer, should also be a leader in the development of clean coal technologies. As a research and technology development leader, the University of Wyoming could attract additional federal and private investment in coal technology research.” “Most importantly, it is simply the right thing to do,” he added.

According to Freudenthal, coal is and will continue to be a large producer of America’s electricity (not to mention other countries around the world). Also, the CO2 capture will continue to be an important part of the process.

“We can either be ahead of the train or be under it,” Freudenthal said.

While many other suggestions are milling around for the use of the AML funds, Freudenthal sees the research and development of clean coal technologies as the forefront idea.

“I am not suggesting these proposals are without merit,” Freudenthal said. “I simply argue that the funds should be treated as an opportunity to advance and build a focused economic future for Wyoming. Wyoming has the opportunity to lead rather than follow.”

“The question is,” Freudenthal added. “Do we have the discipline to commit?”

Although nothing specific has been done yet since the funds are not actually in Wyoming possession at this time, much like Freudenthal, governing bodies are beginning to make their requests for usage of the funds. According to mayor’s assistant Lauren McKeever some preliminary guidelines have been sent out and local municipalities do not qualify to apply for the grants that will come from the funds.

McKeever added that the Town of Pinedale would continue to monitor the regulations and requirements in the hopes that at some point the town would become eligible.

“They are very strict requirements,” she said. “But, if we would become eligible, we would certainly apply.”

Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford, is unaware of any current plans by the commissioners to apply for monies from within the AML program.

More information will be available concerning the actual amount received by Wyoming, the terms of the funds and how they will be dispersed.

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