Cheyenne— Wyoming's legislature will have the final say on spending the approximately $138.5 million a year the state will receive over the next seven years following renewal of the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program by Congress. Wyoming is scheduled to receive $550 million in back payments in seven equal installments (or $78.5 million each year) plus about $60 million a year for the life of the program.
And since the state is nearly caught up with abandoned mine land reclamation projects, most of the money will go elsewhere. Many legislators want to see at least a portion of the money invested in a state "rainy day" savings account.
Marion Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said, "I think infrastructure is a good way to go with part of it, and they may want to save part of it for issues down the road, but don't just throw it into the general fund and start spending it." And House Speaker-elect Roy Cohee (R-Casper) agrees. After cleaning up any remaining abandoned mine properties, he suggested, "Then I guess we would have to look at communities impacted directly by mining. And by mining I mean any type of mineral development."
The $550 million currently owed to Wyoming is to be distributed in seven equal installments beginning at the Oct. 1, 2007, start of federal fiscal year 2008. The bill was signed by President Bush on Dec. 20. Passage of the measure ends a years-long fight that pitted coal-producing states against each other.
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) praised the bill, saying Wyoming stands to collect $1.6 billion over the full 15-year life of the measure. "I've been working on this for more than 10 years, and it is time the federal government fulfilled its promise by paying the bill owed to Wyoming and other mining states. Passage of this legislation will pay the state money owed to Wyoming by the feds and will ensure full future payments will not be hijacked by the federal treasury," he said.