From Scoops to Hoops; Abandonded Mines and Basketball
It’s possible that someone mined coal at the site of the University of Wyoming’s Arena-Auditorium a century ago, but I can’t find any record of it. Nevertheless, the Wyoming House of Representatives is advancing a bill that would take money collected from coal producers for reclaiming abandoned mine sites and using it to fix up the basketball arena, for about $10 million.
The money for abandoned mines – AML funds – originated in the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. There was a real need for it – Appalachian hillsides and hollows had been destroyed by mining companies that had long since shut down and put the money into mansions on the hill. The original intent of the law was that the tax on coal (35 cents per ton) would be dedicated to reclaiming areas damaged before 1977.
With billions spent on reclamation around the country over the last three decades, and not much left to do in states like Wyoming, Congress and the Obama Administration have tried to curtail the AML gravy train. Wyoming argues, as Rep. Rosie Berger (R-Sheridan) did in the legislature Tuesday, that the state sends the federal Office of Surface Mining more coal taxes and royalties than any other state, so we deserve a big piece of the AML pie, whether we’ve got hazardous abandoned mines or not.
So why not repair that abandoned, hazardous seating in the basketball arena?
Well, because when the grant request goes into AML, the feds might think those dollars – in fact, all the AML dollars – might better be used to cut the federal budget deficit. “I think the federal government is looking for an excuse to take this money away from us,” said Rep. Matt Teeters (R-Torrington), questioning the Arena-Auditorium reclamation.
It’s only a small portion of the $82.7 million Wyoming is eligible to receive in AML monies this biennium. Many of the other requests are, at least, energy related. There’s money for the Department of Environmental Quality to address energy impacts around the state, and buy air quality monitors. There’s big money ($40 million) for carbon sequestration work at the University of Wyoming, redirecting the AML money that was going to be invested with a match from General Electric in a “clean coal” pilot plant, before GE pulled out.
Then it gets a little more tangential, if energy is the key component in AML spending. We have $23 million for the Gillette-Madison water project (I suppose all those energy workers need tap water), and $3.5 million for UW’s agriculture building in Sheridan, and $6 million for the wildlife trust fund, so those sage grouse don’t get lost in an old coal mine.
But the sage grouse don’t do nearly as well under this bill as the University of Wyoming, which never tires of coming up with new projects for taxpayers to fund. The School of Energy Resources will get millions for “implementation of strategic areas of concentration.” You bet. Let’s concentrate and implement. Strategically. That will be $5 million please.
And, unless enough skeptical legislators put a stop to it, we’ll see a big chunk of the money generated by big coal mine shovels sunk into the Arena-Auditorium. From scoops to hoops, thanks to one of the few federal programs that Wyoming seems to like just fine.