- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - As Wyoming faces a $210 million budget shortfall, the state is in line to receive up to $242 million in federal abandoned-mine reclamation money.

The state can apply for the money, which can be used for “coal reclamation, non-coal reclamation, and other purposes as determined by the Legislature,” according to a letter sent Monday from a federal official to the director of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

The money comes as the state sees declining revenue from oil, natural gas and coal. Lawmakers and Gov. Matt Mead are discussing budget cuts, borrowing from a rainy day reserve fund and even tax increases to balance the state’s budget.

The Legislature will meet for about 20 days beginning Feb. 8 to hammer out a state budget for the next two years.

The abandoned-mine reclamation money was contained in a transportation bill that Congress passed Dec. 3. It comes from a federal fund into which coal mining companies pay extraction fees.

Wyoming had obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in abandoned mine lands money in the past. In a 2012 transportation bill, most of the money was stripped from the state as disbursements from the fund were capped at $15 million to coal-producing states. Wyoming’s all-Republican congressional delegation - Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis - fought since then to restore the money.

Gov. Matt Mead has not determined a list of programs or mining projects he’d like the money to pay for, said his spokesman, David Bush.

“The governor has said that the process for the (abandoned mine land) funds will include talking with the Legislature to find the appropriate use for that money and that he’s not committing to any particular project or use right now,” Bush told the Casper Star-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1P6M2FB).

But Shannon Anderson, of the Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council landowners group, said the money should be spent on reclamation work.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com

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