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 by the federal government and spent on unrelated federal programs and used to make budget numbers look better.

On Friday, Dec. 8 the House passed a tax extenders package that included the AML funding by a vote of 367-45. The Senate passed the same measure at 1 a.m. Saturday.

Wyoming will receive an initial $550 million of what is currently owed from the federal government, and a projected $1.6 billion in payments over the next 15 years from the fund. I am very pleased to get Wyoming’s share of the AML funds that we were promised so long ago. My part in the legislation was to include language that gives our state legislature the flexibility to prioritize how our money will be spent. However, I remain concerned about the expansion of the AML program for things unrelated to reclamation or mining. This is certainly not a perfect package, but our current and past Wyoming delegations have always worked to maintain and achieve fairness under this program with other mining states.