CASPER — Wyoming stands to lose up to $700 million over the next decade under a six-month budget extension expected to win approval in Washington.
Last week, the U.S. House passed the measure which is aimed at avoiding a government shutdown when the current budget expires Sept. 30. The Casper Star-Tribune (bit.ly/U45zvY) reported Monday that the Senate is expected to pass the measure this week and be signed into law by president Barack Obama.
At issue are Abandoned Mine Lands program funds from taxes paid by coal producers for abandoned mines. Half goes to the federal government and half goes to states.
A previous transportation bill capped payments to states at $15 million. The budget measure restored payments to other coal states but not to Wyoming, the nation's top coal producer. It's the only state that was expected to get more than $15 million next year.
U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., calls it a "raid on Wyoming."
"For the past two years Wyoming's been paying into the fund more than all the other states combined," Lummis said in her weekly video.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has vowed to fight the change.
"This is far from over, and we are not going to rest until the money that belongs to the people of Wyoming is fully restored," he said in a statement.
Since Wyoming has cleaned many of its abandoned mines, it can spend the money however it wants. The state traditionally has used the money for coal reclamation, clean coal and energy research and infrastructure projects.
For many years, the federal government used the money to pay for non-reclamation projects, causing a backlog in payments to Wyoming. The federal government began making those back payments in 2006. Wyoming got more than $150 million in 2012, with $50 million of that going to the University of Wyoming's School of Energy Resources.