Obama tries again to cut cleanup money for mines
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama wants to save $115 million this year – and $1.2 billion over 10 years – by eliminating payments to states and Indian tribes that have completed cleanup of abandoned coal mines.
Obama calls the proposal common sense: Why pay states to clean up mines that have already been cleaned up?
But eliminating the program may not be so easy. Obama tried the same thing last year and was rebuffed.
Lawmakers from mining states say the money is needed to create jobs and to clean up other mines, including hard rock mines, that continue to pose a danger.
Within hours of Obama’s proposal, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., issued a strongly worded press release denouncing the move and vowing to keep the mine payment program intact.
“I understand we need to tighten our belt and cut wasteful spending, but it makes absolutely no sense to cut a program that has such a strong record of job creation and quality results,” he said.
The Abandoned Mine Land program “is all about creating jobs and keeping folks safe, making it a win-win for Montana and the nation,” Baucus said, adding that he and other Western lawmakers, including fellow Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, would redouble their efforts to preserve the program.
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal said he was discouraged by the president’s proposal.
“For four decades, Wyoming argued the state’s case establishing our right to” to mine-cleanup funding, the Democratic governor said in a joint statement with the state’s three GOP members of Congress.
Freudenthal called the budget proposal “an ‘all hands on deck’ moment,” noting that cleanup money helps support programs ranging from research at the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources to reclamation projects at abandoned mine sites.
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said deciding to eliminate the mine cleanup program is like a bank manager telling customers they can’t withdraw money from a savings account where they’ve been putting in money for 30 years.
“After years of keeping our money hostage, we finally got some paid back and now they want to steal it again,” Enzi said.
“We stopped the administration from stealing Wyoming’s AML dollars last year,” added Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. “We will do everything in our power to stop this attempted robbery again.”
Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal producer, has received about $600 million in AML funds and Montana about $117 million since Congress initiated the program in 1977 with passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The federal government still collects a 35-cent tax on each ton of coal produced for the AML fund.
The White House says coal production has shifted over time, so that most current production is in the West and most abandoned mines are in the East.