Washington, D.C. – Wyoming was within a hairsbreadth of securing more than $550 million of coal tax money "hijacked" by the federal government, according to U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who is hopeful this latest effort to recover the money will lead to success in the future.
"For nearly 30 years the door to the room containing AML money has been shut to the states, but this agreement is like a pry bar," Enzi said. "Legislating can be a game of grit and we’ve got that. I will continue to work on this issue."
The Senate voted 56-42 against a tax credit bill that also contained Enzi’s Abandoned Mine Land (AML) legislation.
A bumpy ride
As chairman of a Senate-House conference committee working on pension legislation, Enzi took the opportunity to work with senators from Pennsylvania and West Virginia on an agreement that would ensure Wyoming receives its coal tax money and eastern coal miners, whose companies are now defunct, continue to get health benefits. The senators managed to gain acceptance of the agreement and add it to the pension conference report. A few House members of the conference committee, however, decided to put the AML legislation, along with other tax credits in one bill and the pension legislation in another bill. The House passed the two bills then adjourned for the August home work period. The Senate passed the pension bill. The AML provision, tied to a proposal to eliminate the death tax that is opposed by most Democrats, did not have the votes to pass.
In 1977, when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed, a tax was levied against every ton of coal produced to help clean up coal mines that were abandoned before reclamation laws existed. Half of that tax was promised to states, and the other half went to the federal government to run the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program and direct more money to the states with the largest reclamation needs, primarily eastern states.
"Unfortunately, money that was promised to our state was not sent back to Wyoming, and money that was supposed to do reclamation was not sent to states with reclamation needs. Instead of on-the-ground projects, the money was kept in Washington, DC, spent on unrelated federal programs or used to make budget numbers look better. Today, the federal government owes Wyoming more than $550 million, and it is time to pay us back," Enzi said.
Enzi worked on the AML agreement from the basis of his four key principles. They include: the return of the $550 million owed to Wyoming "with no strings attached"; the guarantee of full future monies; a reduction on the tax charged to Wyoming’s coal companies; and, a guarantee that more money be directed toward reclamation in the states where reclamation was needed.
The work continues
Enzi is hopeful this latest action will help with future efforts to restore coal tax money to the state.
"The agreement we added to the pension conference committee and that was later added to the tax credit bill should give us leverage for future efforts," Enzi said. "The Wyoming delegation has been working on this for a number of years. We are coming at this problem from every angle. We will continue making progress."