It looks like Wyoming and other states affected by the U.S. Interior Department’s withholding of mineral revenues due to the states as part of the federal sequestration budget cuts will not be able to take legal action, so they need to seek help in Congress, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Friday.
“The big issue for us as part of sequestration is the loss of mineral funds,” Mead told a press conference in Cheyenne. “Our attorney general and his staff has been looking at the issue to see if we have any legal recourse.
“We’re still looking at it, but right now it does not look like we will have any legal recourse to stop the withholding of those dollars [which for Wyoming has the largest total in the nation at $53 million]. So our best hope is working with the Congressional delegation.”
Mead said that when taxes, as well as royalty revenues, are included, 48 or 49 states are impacted by this Interior budget cut move, which he hopes will stir more state delegations in Congress to address the issue.
The move is part of the U.S. Interior’s fiscal 2013 response to sequestration budget cuts impacting 34 other states besides Wyoming, involving a total withholding from those states of $110.8 million. Wyoming faces the biggest hit, almost half of that total with New Mexico, which is ranked second at $26 million (see Daily GPI, March 28).
Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) notified states and counties of the withholding earlier in March, attributing it to the Budget Control Act of 2011. “ONRR recognizes the hardships this may impose on states, but it is obligated to fulfill its mission in compliance with the law,” said ONRR spokesman Patrick Etchart.
For the past full fiscal year 2012, 36 states collectively received more than $2.1 billion in energy and mineral production revenues from federal lands, according to the ONRR.
Mead said he has talked with the governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, who was surprised by the Interior action. When the Western Governors Association met with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (before sequestration kicked in), officials said the mineral revenue cuts were a possibility, they did not say they were likely, according to Mead.
“We were taken aback and didn’t think it was going to happen,” Mead said, adding that federal officials would say that there was advance notice. He has been critical of the way the notification was handled in a letter to the state in late March.
“Because it is affecting so many states, we are hopeful that state delegations like Wyoming’s in Congress will be able to work on that.”
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