President Obama submitted a budget proposal on Thursday that halts the distribution of up to $200 million per year to states that have already cleaned up their abandoned coal mines, yet still receive money from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program.
This action by Obama is bringing heated opposition from Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal producer, and the recipient of $100 million a year from the program.
“I can say with full confidence that I and Wyoming’s current congressional delegation will not rest until President Obama’s current AML proposal is buried.” - Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo
Wyoming has finished the cleanup of its abandoned coal mines, but continues to divert the money to projects such as the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources operating budget ($17.4 million), a gasification facility and technology center for the School of Energy Research ($20 million) , and the construction of a road to a future Carbon County coal-to-liquid plant ($10 million).
“This is a past obligation and to threaten to take away what we are already owed is outrageous.” - Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo
The president’s proposal could also affect Montana, Texas, Louisiana, and three Native American tribes, and its critics claim that the proposal goes against a compromise agreed upon in 2006. That compromise allowed states that have achieved their coal mine cleanups to continue using the funding for road construction, non-coal reclamation, and other projects.
Under the initial federal AML program, coal operations across the country pay a tax on each ton of coal produced that funds the reclamation of mine sites abandoned before the 1977 federal strip mine law was passed.
“The goal is to stop payments to states where the job of reclaiming abandoned coal mines is done.” - Peter Mali, U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement.