Instead, Cubin joined forces with Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., on a different proposal.
Like Bush, Cubin and Rahall want to free up the certified states' share of unappropriated AML money for states with bigger abandoned mine problems. Like Bush, they would distribute the new money to states based on their pre-1977, historic coal production, a proxy for the amount of old mine sites.
But Cubin and Rahall would pay off certified states' unappropriated past taxes with money from mineral leases on federal lands.
In addition, certified states like Wyoming would continue to receive an amount equal to their half-share of future AML taxes. This money would also come from federal mineral leases.
"The states and [American Indian] tribes entered into an agreement with the federal government premised on their receiving at a minimum a 50 percent return on their contributions to the program," Rahall said during a March hearing. "Cubin-Rahall maintains the integrity of those agreements. The administration does not."
Neither proposal has gotten very far in Congress.
A new problem?
When Bush administration officials talk about the problems created by the 50-50 split in AML money, it sounds like something new.
During a Senate hearing in March, Jarrett said that during "the early years of the program, [the split] didn't cause a considerable problem."
But OSM officials have worried about the problem for years. In an unpublished 1990 report, the agency said lawmakers should consider reducing the share that Western states get back once they are certified.
Also, lawmakers knew from the start that the Western production shift was coming. In fact, lawmakers wrote the 50-50 split in part for just that reason.
During the debate on the strip-mining bill, lawmakers knew the most serious abandoned mine problems were in the East and Midwest. They also knew that much of the new growth predicted for the coal industry would be in the strip mines of the West.
For example, the House report on the strip-mining law showed that only 3 percent of the land disturbed by pre-1977 mining was in the six Western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. At the same time, those same states contained 58 percent of the "available strippable reserves" of coal.
To address these Western concerns, and get Western lawmakers to support passage of the law, states were promised one-half of their AML taxes. Then-Sen. John Melcher, D-Mont., has taken credit for adding the 50-50 split to the bill.
Paying for other industries
Wyoming and other Western states have also benefited greatly from a provision in the strip-mining law that allowed AML money to be spent to reclaim noncoal mines. In the past, far more Western land was damaged from the mining of other minerals than from coal mining.
States, almost exclusively in the West, have spent more than $272 million in AML money on such projects. Wyoming has spent by far the most, more than $168 million, according to OSM records. Colorado is next, with more than $33 million, the records show.
The coal industry's per-ton tax funds cleanups of gold, copper and other minerals mining. Those other industries pay no such tax to help reclaim the sins of their past.
'We should have caught these things'
Earlier this year, the Gazette obtained an OSM inventory of Wyoming's AML spending and a state Department of Environmental Quality list of AML-funded infrastructure projects.
The two lists didn't match. The OSM listed projects the state didn't. The state listed projects the OSM knew nothing about.
The OSM's Padgett ordered an audit, and last month produced a new list. It showed $90 million in infrastructure projects funded with AML money - more than either of the original state or federal lists.
Padgett said he has ordered his staff to keep a closer watch on such spending in the future.
"It is embarrassing," Padgett said. "This should have been correct, and we should have caught these things through normal oversight."
Updating the inventory
While OSM officials were trying to figure out how much Wyoming had spent on schools and sewer systems, state representatives were demanding more AML money from Congress.
During a March Senate hearing, Wyoming AML administrator Evan Green dropped a bombshell. Green told lawmakers that an investigation by his agency had discovered more than 1,700 abandoned mine sites no one knew about before.
With new aerial photography and sophisticated computer mapping, Green said, Wyoming officials are "for the first time" getting a "comprehensive overview" of their state's AML problems.
"The cost for remaining work in Wyoming will greatly exceed the funds delivered under the administration's proposal, and will likely exceed hundreds of millions of dollars," Green told senators.
Green's announcement, though, should not have surprised anyone.
Wyoming's unfunded AML inventory has been creeping up since the state hired a contractor to update it in 1999.
In 1995, the OSM listed less than $500,000 in unfunded AML projects. But by 2000, it had increased its inventory to $13.5 million. At the end of last year, it was $41.7 million.
In an interview, Green said many of the newly identified sites really are new problems. Residential areas expand, moving closer to previously isolated abandoned mines. In underground mines, aging timbers give way, causing new ground subsidence.
"To me, it's frustrating to have people make the assumption that, because we are certified, we don't have any more coal sites," Green said. "There are going to be coal mine-related hazards in Wyoming forever."
Padgett, the OSM official, is not so sure. He promises to scrutinize Wyoming's new inventory and make sure all the entries are justified.
"I'm going to hold their feet to the fire on that," Padgett said.
Tuesday in the Gazette: Environmentalists and some state officials are pushing to divert more AML money away from sites that threaten health and safety.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.