States to get cash for minerals

Colorado and other states will receive their full shares of money from the leasing of federal lands for mining or drilling within their borders as the Interior Department reconsiders whether sequestration applies to the money.

In Colorado, that means more than $5.7 million from federal mineral leases will be distributed to the state and various local governments affected by the development of minerals on federal lands.

Funds sequestered in 2013 will be available in fiscal year 2014, the Office of Natural Resources Revenue wrote to Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton on Monday.

The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30 and the Interior Department will continue to withhold 5.1 percent of state shares through that time, according to the letter.

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, welcomed the turnabout by the Obama administration. Udall called it a “win for cities and counties from the Western Slope to the Eastern Plains.”

Udall, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Bennet earlier this year asked the administration to restore mineral leasing revenues to Colorado.

The Interior Department letter came to light just as the Mesa County Mineral Lease District wrote to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that western Colorado schools, parks, roads and other local programs would wrongly suffer under sequestration.

The state share of mineral lease revenues “is not a federal expenditure nor a federal appropriation subject to sequestration,” the Mesa County Federal Mineral Lease District wrote.

The board of the lease district joined with Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and the Conference of Western Attorneys General in asking that Interior begin passing money back to the states and local governments.

“Programs targeted by the so-called ‘sequester’ are selected to impart the most political pain possible,” the mineral lease district said. “Please know, however, that if (Interior) chooses to politicize Mesa County’s federal mineral lease dollars the agency does so at the expense of local roads, parks, schools, healthcare programs and other critical programs” that receive mineral-lease funding.

Interior Department officials didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.

There have been no discussions between the district and the Interior Department, said David Ludlam, president of the district.

“We’re hoping this letter is a catalyst for those discussions,” Ludlam said Monday.

Ludlam also is the executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

The attorneys general had insisted that under federal law the federal government had no authority to withhold the state share of mineral leases.

In the letter to Colorado, Interior officials said that a legal review regarding sequestration of those funds “requires careful consideration of the relevant provisions in light of the current statutory framework.”



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