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CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming’s congressional delegation voted to put Abandoned Mine Lands funding on the chopping block by voting for Paul Ryan’s failed 2013 federal budget in March. Though the program’s elimination wasn’t guaranteed, it was a recommended cut.

The Ryan budget is the bedrock for conservatives looking to constrain government spending. Voting for it meant the members of Congress, the majority of whose states receive no AML funds, would decide if the program was nothing more than negligent government spending.

Using AML funds

Wyoming hasn’t used the money for mine reclamation, the fund’s purpose, in years. Because Wyoming is the largest coal producer in the country, it receives the largest share of AML funds each year. The money’s been used for infrastructure, the University of Wyoming’s Performing Arts Center and School of Energy Resources and a number of conservation programs. In 2012, the state received $150 million.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., assailed Montana Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat, for “single-handedly” robbing Wyoming after he co-authored a provision to cap the state’s AML funds at $15 million per year in the transportation bill. The Ryan budget proposed to eliminate Wyoming’s share altogether and decried the fund as nothing more than Washington aid.

“Effectively, for the states that have been ‘certified’ as having successfully restored critical mining sites, the mine payments serve as an unrestricted Federal subsidy,” Ryan’s budget stated.

In a statement to the Star-Tribune, Lummis said she “did not vote to cut Abandoned Mine Land funds” when she voted for the Ryan budget.

Options offered annually

Every year, the Budget Committee offers options on how to reduce the nation’s expenditures. And “one of the nearly 100 options” in the list “was eliminating payments to certified states,” she said.

She conjectured that AML “would not have been cut” if the Ryan budget had passed Congress.

“Because the Senate majority refuses to bring a budget to the floor, there is not an option to vote up or down on most individual budget items and Senators vote on packages and their choice is to either cut spending or increase it for the entire federal government,” Daniel Patrick Head, spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., wrote in an email to the Star-Tribune.

In a statement to the Star-Tribune, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said, “The Ryan proposal does not change the law — it merely outlines priorities for respective committees to consider that year.” He said what “actually changes the law” is the AML provision included in the transportation bill.

In this summer’s transportation bill co-authored by Baucus, all states in the AML program were limited in how much they could receive from the program. In the House’s budget extension passed last week, Wyoming was the only state with a cap. All members in the Wyoming delegation voted against the transportation bill. The bill does have its positives. For example, Wyoming receives $1.67 of federal money for every $1 it spends on highways in the state. Montana receives 90 cents for every $1 it spends on highways.

The budget extension is expected to soon become law. If it does, the benchmark set in the House budget extension will cost the state nearly $700 million in AML funding in the next 10 years.

The AML program is a tax on every ton of coal produced in the state. Half of the money from the tax goes to the federal program for all eligible states to use, the other half returns to the state.

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