The PJ Tatler

Interior Dept. Agrees to Return Mineral Revenue They Just Decided to Keep

New Mexico’s congressional delegation cheered their victory versus the Interior Department after they won the return of $26 million in mineral royalty payments owed to the state under the Mineral Leasing Act.

Administration officials had unilaterally decided that New Mexico wouldn’t get its payments because of sequestration.

Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Reps. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) and Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) protested the withholding along with other lawmakers in impacted western states. All told, the Obama administration had decided to keep $109 million in mineral revenues.

The Interior Department announced yesterday it would return the money at the start of fiscal year 2014 in October. States have been told that as long as sequestration continues they’ll get their mineral refunds one fiscal cycle late.

“I’m pleased that the Department of the Interior has decided to return the mineral royalties withheld earlier this year,” Pearce said. “It is unacceptable that a unilateral decision in Washington can so easily cut off millions of dollars that are the lifeblood of western states like New Mexico. New Mexico’s classrooms and communities should not suffer at the whim of DC bureaucrats—the Administration’s reckless handling of this issue led to delays and uncertainty that are sure to impact our economy.”

Udall, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was “pleased that the administration has seen reason and will return the revenue owed to states from energy production on federal lands.”

“These funds are the result of an existing agreement for mineral development,” Udall said. “They provide a vital source of funding for public education and other functions New Mexicans rely on, and the federal government shouldn’t be using them to balance its books. I’m relieved that we were able to reverse this aspect of sequestration and restore $26 million back to our state this year and in years ahead.”