Montana & Wyoming senators say ‘enough is enough’ to feds

Baucus, Tester introduce legislation to fix AML process

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Less than a week after hearing that Montana has to apply to receive $58 million of its own money, Wyoming's and Montana's U.S. senators today introduced legislation to clear up any confusion to allow states to get their Abandoned Mine Lands money with no strings attached.

Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester were joined by Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, both Republicans from Wyoming, in introducing legislation that will set the record straight with the Office of Surface Mining (OSM).

Baucus, who as incoming Finance Committee Chairman included the AML funding increase in end-of-the-year pension legislation in 2006, said the new legislation will "slice through the bureaucratic roadblock."

"It's baffling to me that these hurdles have been erected," Baucus said. "Our intention was clear – that Montana and Wyoming were to receive the abandoned mines funding we are entitled to. It's unfortunate that we must force these agencies to do the right thing. But that's what we're going to do."

"Montana shouldn't have to jump through hoops to collect our money from the Federal Government.  Right now the Feds are like that friend you lent twenty bucks to three months ago and every time you ask for it they have another excuse," Tester said.  "Our legislation is going to fix that and it's going to get Montana the $58 million we're owed."

"Only in the absurd world that is Washington could an agency believe that the word 'payment' means grant. When this bill passes, the confusion should be over and Wyoming will once and for all wash its hands of the bureaucratic shenanigans that have surrounded these funds," said Enzi.         

"The recent actions by OSM have been nothing short of an insult to the people of the state of Wyoming," Barrasso said. "The $580 million in AML funds belong to Wyoming. This bill will prevent faceless bureaucrats from hijacking Wyoming's money."

The language of the bill states "all payments of this subsection to a certified State or Indian tribe shall be distributed as direct transfers of funds rather than in the form of grants."

To ensure that no confusion exists as to what Congress intended, senators Tester, Enzi and Barrasso met with officials at the Department of Interior to ask the lawyers and bureaucrats who misinterpreted the law to provide legislative language that would make it explicitly clear how Congress intends the payment to be distributed.

The senators are working with their colleagues to find the best avenue to pass the bill before the end of the year.