State lawmakers urge White House to return withheld mineral payments

Source: Energy & Environment Daily

Lawmakers representing a dozen energy-producing states are petitioning the White House to return $110 million in mineral revenue payments that were withheld due to the budget sequester.

The Energy Producing States Coalition, in a two-page letter sent today to Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, argues that federal law compels the Interior Department to return the sequestered money to the states when the fiscal 2014 budget begins Oct. 1.

Specifically, the coalition letter says the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 “required that withheld mineral revenues had to be returned to the states. This law still applies today.”

The coalition also asks that OMB “confirm that DOI will in fact apply existing law and return the sequestered funds back to the states in FY 2014 and do so as soon as possible.”

The coalition echoes arguments outlined last month in a letter to Burwell from a bipartisan group of Western congressional leaders, including all the senators from New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and North Dakota, as well as a dozen House members from those states (Greenwire, May 17).

Copies of the state coalition’s letter were sent to some of the same federal lawmakers who signed that letter last month, including Colorado Sens. Mark Udall (D) and Michael Bennet (D) and New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce (R), chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.

The decision in March by Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue to withhold 5 percent of the annual mineral revenue payments due to the sequester has hit Western states hard, particularly Wyoming and New Mexico, which stand to lose $53 million and $26 million, respectively (EnergyWire, March 28).

“If this revenue is not returned, DOI’s decision will significantly undermine the ability of states to address, among other things, the impacts of energy and mineral development within their borders,” according to the state coalition’s letter.

An OMB spokeswoman who requested emailed questions and a copy of the coalition’s letter did not respond to requests for comment.

A bipartisan group of senators and representatives last month introduced bills that would ensure future mineral royalties are paid directly to the states, which would prevent the federal government from ever withholding them (E&E Daily, May 15).