Time for OSM to Follow the Law
Cubin, Rehberg Pen Bill to Ensure Direct Payments of AML Funds
U.S. Representatives Barbara Cubin (R-WY) and Denny Rehberg (R-MT) introduced legislation today to require that the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) pay Wyoming and Montana their Abandoned Mine Land (AML) funds by direct payment and not in the form of grants.
Cubin and Rehberg introduced H.R. 4353, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 Technical Corrections Act today to ensure their home states receive their AML funds in the manner intended by Congress. Specifically, the legislation would amend the Surface Mining Control Act of 1977 to mandate that AML payments to certified states and tribes be made as a "direct transfer" of funds - not in grant form.
Last week, the OSM publicized its intentions to repay certified states and tribes AML funds through a "simplified grant process." Cubin and Rehberg's bill comes in response to the OSM's announcement - which goes against congressional intent. The bill will direct the OSM to make those payments to states in direct payment form, with the full authority over the funds given to individual state legislatures.
"For thirty years, the federal government has failed to honor its commitment to coal producing states like Wyoming by holding AML dollars hostage, and they now think they have found another way to sidestep their responsibilities," said Cubin. "If we have to write it down in crayon, I promise we'll find terms they can understand. Wyoming is going to be paid its due."
"It's critical we do everything possible to ensure a healthy, clean environment around Montana's abandoned mines," said Rehberg. "Unfortunately, many of the funds dedicated to restoring these mines have been held up by bureaucrats at the Interior Department. Montana's natural resources are too precious to be ignored and this bill will help make sure we shake loose the needed funding."
When the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed in 1977, a tax was levied against every ton of coal produced to help clean up deserted coal mines that were abandoned before reclamation laws existed. Half of the total fees collected were to go to the federal government to be used for the clean-up of abandoned mines nationwide and the other half were to be returned to the states from which the coal was produced to clean up abandoned mines within their borders. Unfortunately, the federal government never lived up to its financial responsibility and leading coal producing states were only paid a small portion of what they were owed.
To remedy this problem, Cubin authored original legislation for AML reform along with Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall in bipartisan negotiations that stretched across four sessions of Congress. The final product included language that required the federal government to repay certified states and tribes in full what they were owed under the AML program. Under current law, a state becomes "certified," like Wyoming and Montana, once they have completed reclamation of all high priority clean-up sites. Last December, Congress passed and the President signed into law comprehensive legislation which included Cubin's AML provisions.