Colorado AG: Obama sequester of energy royalties ‘unlawful’
State shortchanged millions of dollars; Suthers calls it ‘troubling issue’
The Obama administration’s controversial move to withhold $8.4 million in energy royalty payments that belong to Colorado—as part of a political ploy to drag Main Street America into the White House’s sequestration stand-off with Congress—is drawing fire from the state’s top legal official. In a letter to Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, state Attorney General John Suthers says the federal government has yet to provide legal justification for its actions despite a request by his office for an explanation.
“Given the lack of articulated authority to sequester funds, I believe the sequester is unlawful, especially as it relates to royalty payments due to states under the federal Mineral Leasing Act,” Suthers writes.
Washington is holding back a total $110 million in royalty payments from the states, claiming it was mandated by 5.1 percent across-the-board sequestration cuts. Some members of Congress counter that the administration’s unilateral act has no legal basis and that the royalty payments cannot legitimately be included in the budget sequester.
The Congress members and other critics, including the Energy Producing States Coalition, are saying the administration’s policy amounts to “theft” by the federal government. They contend the energy royalty payments are categorically different from appropriated funds. AFP-Colorado have been seeking an opinion from Attorney General John Suthers on the legality of Washington’s actions, and the attorney general’s response drew applause from AFP-Colorado Deputy Director Sean Paige.
“Now, our attorney general is on record denouncing the administration’s royalty ripoff,” Paige said this week. “It’s time for action. We have to slap the cuffs on these guys and return the funding to its rightful owners.”
Bipartisan efforts are afoot in Congress and elsewhere to fight for full payment of royalties. A copy of Suthers’ letter to AFP-Colorado, as well as a follow-up from AFP-Colorado urging further action, are available here. The Denver Post editorial page weighed-in on the issue this morning, but neglected to mention Suthers’ letter indicating that these actions appeared unlawful, in his opinion.