In anticipation of the continued foot dragging by the agency in charge of distributing back payments of Wyoming and Montana's Abandoned Mine Land (AML) funds, Western representatives are working on legislation to state once and for all that AML funds should get to states with no strings attached.
U.S. Senators Mike Enzi, Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and staff of Representative Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., spoke with the head of the agency in charge of distributing AML money and were informed of a final policy stating that the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) will release AML back payments and future payments through a "simplified grant process."
"The good news is that Wyoming will receive more money under the AML program than ever before. The bad news is that the government discovered a new way to create bureaucratic jobs in Washington," said Enzi, who got language to release funds passed in the Senate through work on the pension bill he chaired. "The OSM somehow believes that the word payment' in the original legislation means grant'. I didn't think it could be anymore clear. I have viewed their misguided document and had conversations with them but to no avail. With my fellow western colleagues we are letting the OSM know exactly how states, according to existing law, should receive the money. The bureaucrats are planning on making Wyoming jump through more hoops than was intended by Congress. This is unacceptable and we are working to change it."
"When I sell my grain at market I don't expect the buyer to hand me a stack of paperwork to fill out or grants to apply for. Montana deserves no less," said Tester. "It's good to see that the OSM is finally agreeing to release the $58 million dollars that Montana is owed, but they need to do it in a fair, easy way without placing undue burden on the states or creating another federal bureaucracy."
"Let's be clear - $580 million belongs to the people of Wyoming. It does not belong to Washington and its evasive bureaucracy. I'm amazed that these bureaucrats can take the clear, straightforward language - "payments shall be made in 7 equal installments" - and twist it into a grant program, requiring application and review. Seems only the Feds don't understand the word pay'," said Barrasso.
"When House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall and I first introduced the original legislation almost five years ago to ensure Wyoming receives all of its AML dollars, it was clear how those payments should be made," Cubin said. "Over the next several years, we reworked and redrafted the bill several times, but one thing never changed - Wyoming would receive its AML dollars without restriction. Now, at the same time OSM tells us face-to-face the payments will be made with no-strings attached,' they wrap those payments in bureaucratic red tape. While Wyoming will receive its money as promised, it's obvious there is still work to be done."
Through OSM's "simplified grant process", the agency would tell states how much it is eligible to receive, the state will then ask for that money and the OSM will create a line of credit for the state to draw funds as needed. The OSM will not have the ability to refuse money when a state applies or have authority over how the state spends the money.
The Final IOU Tally
On November 15 the OSM finished collecting AML payments from states and determined Wyoming will receive $82,700,759 and Montana will receive $8,269,086 every year for seven years. This totals to nearly $580 million total for Wyoming and about $58 million for Montana.