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Western Senators Seek To Restore Minerals Payments

By BEN NEARY

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) â¿¿ U.S. senators from Wyoming and New Mexico said Tuesday they plan to roll out legislation this week to restore about $110 million in cuts to a federal minerals payment program that hit their states the hardest.

Wyoming, the nation's biggest coal-producing state, stands to lose more than $50 million this year, while New Mexico faces a loss of about $25 million. They top a list of 35 states that face mineral payment cuts this year.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., told Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at a hearing in Washington on Tuesday that the federal Mineral Leasing Act requires the federal government to split revenues from the sale of minerals on federal lands with the states. He said he regards the payments as state revenues that ought to be off limits from federal meddling.

"This revenue is vital to New Mexico, where it funds our public education system," Udall told Jewell. "New Mexico state leaders are very upset by the Department of Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue determination that these state revenues are subject to sequestration."

The federal government last year paid $2.1 billion to the states as their share of revenue from energy and mineral production on federal lands and offshore. Wyoming received nearly $1 billion.

The cuts this year trimmed about 5 percent from all the states' shares. Wyoming is losing at least $53 million this fiscal year, while New Mexico would lose $26 million.

Jewell responded to Udall that the cuts were the result of the federal law that required across-the-board budget cuts, not any particular decision by her agency.

"It affects all revenues and payments, so I'm unclear what kind of jurisdiction we would have over this," Jewell said.

Udall responded: "These are state revenues. What we're going to do in legislation is look to make sure you don't get your hands on them at all, so we don't get in this kind of situation. So that's where we are on that."

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