Mineral lease funds owed, say 10 states

The top legal officials from 10 western states are pressing the Obama administration to explain its withholding of mineral lease money that the officials maintain should be exempt from across-the-board spending cuts.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers joined with the attorneys general of the other nine states, all of which rely on money from the leasing of federal lands, to ask Obama and his Cabinet to explain their position that the state shares of mineral lease revenue are considered federal expenditures.

“The revenues owed to the mineral-producing states under the (Mineral Leasing ACT) are not a gift, a handout, or an entitlement but rather are the result of a compromise reached in 1920 that compensation is due to the states for mineral development within their boundaries,” the attorneys general wrote to the president, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The states’ 48 percent of money from mineral leases on federal land is shared with local governments to help them deal with the consequences of development on lands that are exempt from local property taxes as federal property.

Reducing the amount of money going to the states represents a “profoundly flawed understanding of the relationship between our governments,” the letter says.

“This revenue is statutorily guaranteed to the states … and is vital to the economy and citizens of mineral-producing states,” wrote the attorneys general, all members of the Western Conference of Attorneys General.

“This is clearly money we’re entitled to under this grand bargain, and we’re rattling the swords,” Suthers told The Daily Sentinel last week. “My frustration is, we sent a copy of this to all (U.S.) legislators and they all think this is not what we intended, but I don’t see much action in Congress to do anything about it. This has a lot to do with federalism. We’re really hacked off about that.”

He and the other attorneys general are researching how to mount a legal assault, including a “joint action” among the western states, Suthers said.

The letter also asks the administration to better explain its plan to withhold payments to the states under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

The act required the federal government to pass along to the states money they would have received from timber sales on federal lands.

In addition to Colorado, the letter was signed by the top legal officials from Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.


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