The director of Montana's Department of Environmental Quality said President Barack Obama's 2010 budget could translate into the state losing up to $120 million in federal funding meant for cleaning up abandoned mines. The White House is calling on Congress to cut $142 million in Abandoned Mine Lands payments to certain coal states next year and $1.5 billion over 10 years. The termination of AML payments is part of $17 billion the administration wants to eliminate from programs it considers wasteful or obsolete. But killing that program will result in the inability for Montana to clean up scores of abandoned mines that litter the Treasure State. "If the president's budget proposals in fact mirror the information reported and are enacted, Montana would potentially lose up to $120 million in abandoned mine funding through 2022," DEQ Director Richard Opper wrote in a letter to Montana's Congressional delegation. "If AML funding for Montana is eliminated, the pollution and damage will go on for another generation to fix." Opper noted that numerous "shovel-ready" projects would employ more than 200 people during multiple construction seasons, but without assurance of funding, the projects will not even be bid out. John Koerth, supervisor of the state DEQ's Mine Waste Cleanup Bureau, said the department has successfully remediated about 35 abandoned mines so far, leaving 138 sites that still need work. "Our program is 100 percent federally funded," he said. "If we don't get the money coming in, it's questionable whether we'll be able to proceed with mine cleanups." Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have sent letters to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Budget Director Peter Orszag asking that the federal funding be continued. They say mine cleanup is a public health and safety issue. Funding for the program comes mainly from fees collected from coal mining companies, and a fight for the money has been ongoing between eastern and western states for years. The current proposal only affects "certified" states Montana, Wyoming and New Mexico and the Crow, Navaho and Hopi tribes, which have said they are finished cleaning up their high-priority coal mining sites. Once certified, the money can be used elsewhere. The federal Office of Management and Budget said the original objective of the program was for the coal industry to pay for cleaning up mines that can't be attributed to a particular producer. The office adds that giving the funds to certified states and tribes to be used in any manner they like was not the original intent. Montana became certified in 1990, and Koerth said the money only is used for reclamation. But in neighboring Wyoming, the money has been spent on other items like infrastructure, a university building and clean coal technology. "Those are the things people back East are saying shouldn't be a part of this," Koerth said. ___ Information from: Independent Record, http://www.helenair. com.