Wyoming to finally get $40 million in mineral lease fees from federal government

2013-08-27T07:00:00Z Wyoming to finally get $40 million in mineral lease fees from federal governmentBy KYLE ROERINK Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

The state of Wyoming will receive more than $40 million in federal funds withheld because of across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, according to the Department of Interior’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

The money is a result of fees from leases on federal land used for oil and natural gas drilling and coal and other mineral extraction. The federal Mineral Lease Act provides the framework for the lease payments to states, but the sequestration law carries language that stipulates the payments must be withheld.

However, a legal review of sequestration by the Interior Department gives the agency authority to release the money to Wyoming and 34 other states, said Patrick Etchart, a spokesman for the Office of Natural Resource Revenue.

The Interior Department was pushed into investigating the matter after the Western Governors Association, congressional delegations, attorneys general and state treasurers across the nation balked at the decision to withhold the money from states.

Wyoming had the most at stake. The state will receive at least $40.9 million of the total $82.5 million that will be released. Wyoming Deputy State Treasurer Sharon Garland said Wyoming’s current dollar figure doesn’t include fourth-quarter earnings owed to the state, so the figure is expected to increase.

Gov. Matt Mead, the Wyoming congressional delegation, former state Attorney General Greg Phillips and state Treasurer Mark Gordon worked together to get the funds released despite what was outlined in the Budget Control Act — the law that laid out sequestration — said Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead.

“I was tickled when I heard the news,” Gordon said. “It goes to show what can happen in a state like Wyoming where the governor, congressional delegation and attorney general can all work together and get things done.”

The nationwide cadre of lawmakers and elected officials that worked to get the money out of the grips of the Interior Department used a legal review of a 1985 deficit reduction law on which the Budget Control Act is based.

A provision in the 1985 bill outlined a payment freeze of Mineral Lease Act money by the federal government to the states.

Since sequestration was nearly a replica of the 1985 law, the same freeze was enacted when the across-the-board cuts went into effect more than five months ago.

A federal appeals court in 1988 acknowledged that the 1985 law’s intent was to reduce the deficit when parts of it came under review, but ruled that the payments owed to states didn’t play a role in that reduction.

The court went so far as to say that freezing the payments could be considered a “sham” by critics.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, led a bipartisan group of 10 senators and 12 House members to try to wrest the money back from the federal government in May. The group, which includes fellow Wyoming Republicans Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, sent a letter to the Obama administration’s director of the Office of Budget and Management in May to explain that keeping the money from Wyoming and other states was unwarranted.

After waiting for a response during the summer, the Wyoming congressional delegation was thrilled to see that the money is coming back.

“Today’s decision is good news for the people of Wyoming,” Barraso said in a statement. He said the raft of payments “is nothing less than that which is required under federal budget law.”

Sequestration has been used for a lot of “questionable” policy decisions, Enzi said in a statement. The revenue is vital to Wyoming communities and shouldn’t have been taken in the first place, he said.

“We all knew that taking Wyoming’s rightful share of mineral royalties was wrong from the start.” Lummis said in a statement. “Thanks to the careful legislative research of Senator Enzi in particular, we prevailed in this case. Unfortunately, until we cut the middle man out if these transactions, we will always be vulnerable to the federal sharks swimming around Wyoming’s revenue.”

Officials say there are still problems to be fixed in the payment plan.

The Interior Department usually makes quarterly payments to states. But because of language in the Budget Control Act, states will have to wait until the end of each fiscal year for the next 10 years to receive the money. The issue could be solved if Congress can develop a plan to replace sequestration, but until then the money will be withheld until at least Oct. 1 of coming years.

States are still unsure whether they will receive interest for the withholding of the payments.

The Interior Department is reviewing the law to see whether it can disperse that money, Etchart said.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. Cody Coyote
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    Cody Coyote - August 29, 2013 2:09 pm
    I'm jumping down Barrasso's throat here not necessarily in his capacity as an obstructionist duplicitous Senator---although that is sufficient for argument's sake ---but in his role as the third ranking Republican in the overall Party hierarchy and the guy in charge of establishing strategy, policy , and propaganda talking points for the national Republican party , both houses. He's analogous in our time to Old Joe Goebbels in his.

    As for Mead, what can I say ? He has a pathological hatred of the Federal Government until they take away something he wants. Then all of a sudden he's a dealmaker and Schmoozer-in Chief for the Cowboy State.

    Sidenote: Insulting your intelligence is too easy. I have to restrain myself most days. And by the way , I'm Irish , too.

  2. Pops
    Report Abuse
    Pops - August 28, 2013 4:29 pm
    Think before you speak, write or otherwise insult our intelligence.
  3. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - August 27, 2013 9:24 pm
    You're correct - Obama threatened not to sign a budget without "this, sequestration being his idea" in the budget. You're correct, what a "woven web, Obama weaved", his demanded Congressional supported sequestration Obama didn't think would be passed.
    Just so Obama would cut off White House tours, not open National Parks, and Furlough others, etc ., just to spend $100million as witnessed earlier this year on a trip to Africa.,
    I'm not blaming all on the democrats but, since they are in power through the White House and Senate. They also hold the bulk responsibility of the past five years, as well.
  4. stickalose
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    stickalose - August 27, 2013 8:52 pm
    Wasn't Cindy "excited" about sequestration?
  5. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - August 27, 2013 5:46 pm
    Lets not forget that congress passed sequesration including the revocation of mineral royalties. All of WY congressional delegation voted for it. Now they are taking credit for getting it back. Give me a break.
  6. IrishRaider
    Report Abuse
    IrishRaider - August 27, 2013 3:54 pm
    Yo Wile E. The U.S. Senate is controlled by the dEMOCRATS lest you forget Komrade.
  7. Cody Coyote
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    Cody Coyote - August 27, 2013 12:00 pm
    Just give that little kid dressed like a cowboy his allowance so he quits bawling about it...

    As for the big kids---those in Congress- could we somehow persuade them to also quit whining and just do the job they w ere sent there to do ? If Barrasso would quit the whine and the grandstanding and do his sworn duty, these ridiculous Sequesters and debt ceiling knee jerks and government shutdown threats would not be necessary.

    Barrasso says it was required by federal budget law that the US Treasury fork over the funds. What a deluge of hypocrisy coming out of both sides of Doctor No's mouth ...citing budget law...when his party and his Senate refuses to even pass a budget going on five years now. Why ? ---partisan ideologic " We Hate Everything Obama Does On My Side Of The Aisle" grounds, that's why. Since that sequester vulture is now perched on your shoulder, are you gonna feed it anything ?
  8. Kool Kat
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    Kool Kat - August 27, 2013 8:29 am
    Have you forgotten already, that the feds (last winter) announce-threatened to take Wyoming's share of Mineral Royalty Payments? Till now, I had not heard anything differently or more, nor has the Trib reported beyond last report.
    Till now, since Liz threw her name in verses Enzi - all of a sudden Wyoming is not as broke as first previously thought. Perhaps you don't weigh "available" evidence as I do, as Obama seemed to support Enzi "taxation" legislation that stalled in the US House.

    I'll play the devil's advocate here, "tell me where Obama didn't threaten to take over $100 million" from Wyoming in 2013? Can't remember the exact figure, but I thought it was around $123 million total. That's not cracker jacks money as your comment may suggest.
  9. 51 Flathead
    Report Abuse
    51 Flathead - August 27, 2013 7:35 am
    Did you invent your blather,or pull it out of a cracker jack box?
  10. Kool Kat
    Report Abuse
    Kool Kat - August 27, 2013 7:17 am
    Are we suppose to rejoice that "Obama decided not to thieve from Wyoming, after all?" That "behind the scenes" he's making Sen Enzi look better as a RINO Senator? That is exactly what this looks like.
    Celebrate Wyoming, as Obama is showing mercy enough to pay Wyoming's share of the revenue, as managing partner to Wyoming lands. Its obvious that Obama could not break the "will" of the people of Wyoming.

    Will Enzi claim he got this "near heisted money" for us, behind the scenes? Enzi's RINOness got him rewarded by Obama on behalf of Wyoming?
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