CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- President Obama is, for the fourth time, asking Congress to stop diverting money intended for cleaning up abandoned coal mines to states that have already reclaimed all of their old mine sites.
The Obama proposal is again included in the Interior Department's proposed budget for the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Under the proposal, OSM would save $137 million in the 2013 financial year and about $1.1 billion over the next decade, by not distributing federal Abandoned Mine Lands funds to states that have previously "certified" they cleaned up all coal sites that were abandoned prior to 1977.
OSM's proposed legislation, sent to Congress along with the agency budget recommendation, would also create a new program "competitively allocate" future AML reclamation funding to states with the most need for it.
But the OSM proposal hasn't drawn much support on Capitol Hill, and agency officials indicated on Tuesday they didn't really have any clear plans to try to promote the idea.
"The administration makes its proposal to Congress," OSM Director Joe Pizarchik said in a conference call with industry, environmental groups and state regulatory officials. "It's ultimately Congress that passes the budget."
The reforms for the AML program were part of an Obama administration budget and legislative package that slashed OSM's budget for regulatory matters by more than 6 percent, to $140.7 million.
Obama proposed to increase OSM's own funding for implementation of existing environmental standards by $4.1 million, but would cut grants that support state regulatory agencies by nearly $11 million.
As has been done under previous Obama budget proposals, OSM encouraged states to make up lost federal dollars for their regulatory agencies by increasing permit fees paid by coal operators.
"This year's budget reflects a need for fiscal austerity while maintaining OSM's commitment to work with our state and tribal partners to protect communities and the economy nationwide," Pizarchik said in a prepared statement.