Lawmakers float legislation to undo transportation offset on reclamation funding
Reprinted with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. Not for republication by Wyoming media.
Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) introduced legislation yesterday to repeal an offset to the transportation bill that President Obama recently signed into law. The conference committee that hammered out the transportation legislation included a measure to cap at $15 million abandoned coal mine reclamation program payments to states and tribes that are certified as having finished cleaning up their priority sites.On its face, the measure means Wyoming will lose more than $700 million over the next 10 years while sparing other certified jurisdictions like Montana, which receives less in annual payments.But adding fuel to the anger, it turns out that the offset will also cost uncertified states close to $600 million, according to a new analysis by lawmakers and the Interstate Mining Compact Commission. IMCC said that, for example, Pennsylvania stands to lose $17.8 million a year and West Virginia $10.2 million a year.”Whether this amount of money will be restored in later years remains to be seen, but we are concerned that this will not be the case,” IMCC Executive Director Greg Conrad wrote this week in a letterto the Wyoming congressional delegation.The offset effectively amended 2006 changes to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, a carefully crafted formula for distributing the dollars collected from coal industry taxes.

Uncertified states like Pennsylvania are in dire need of funding to clean up pollution from abandoned coal mine sites that predate key laws like the Clean Water Act. Lawmakers from certified tribes and states like Wyoming shudder at the thought of money collected from coal companies in their jurisdictions going elsewhere.

“Given the complexity of this seemingly ‘simple’ amendment to SMCRA, our analysis of the impact continues,” Conrad wrote. “There are a host of procedural and logistical questions concerning its interconnectedness with other provisions of the Act which will likely require rule-making by the Office of Surface Mining to fully sort out.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, who represents a state that benefits from the current system, defended not blocking the offset.

“While Senator Baucus did not raise this provision in the [transportation] conference,” the senator’s office said in a statement, “he did not oppose it, because it cracks down on wasteful spending while protecting states like Montana who are using their [abandoned mine lands] money for [non-coal] mine cleanup.”

However, it appears that many lawmakers and staff did not fully understand the arcane details of the funding distribution formula.

“This is what happens when the legislation is done by a few in the middle of the night,” members of the Wyoming delegation said in a joint statement yesterday. “We hope this information will help us convince our colleagues in both the Senate and House to fix this.”

Lawmakers were tight-lipped when asked about plans to force Congress to undo the offset. “We’re working on it,” said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), a Finance Committee member. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the fourth-ranking Senate Republican, said, “Yes, there’s a plan.”

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