Nevada to get more than $630,000 in mineral leasing payments

BILLINGS, Mont. — Nevada will receive $630,685 in mineral leasing payments in coming months after federal officials reversed course in a dispute over automatic spending cuts.

It is among dozens of states will receive a combined $110 million.

Interior officials previously defended the cuts by saying they had no choice in the matter under budget rules now in place. But they said Monday that a legal review of the underlying Mineral Leasing Act prompted them to change course.

More than two dozen states had been denied a portion of their payments for 2013, under automatic spending cuts put in place after Congress failed to agree on a deficit reduction plan.

Critics had said the government had no right to withhold the money from states that bear the brunt of the impacts from oil, gas and coal extraction from federal lands.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said the administration’s reversal showed it had “seen reason.”

“These funds are the result of an existing agreement for mineral development,” Udall said in a statement. “The government shouldn’t be using them to balance its books.”

The decision by the Interior Department comes after Western lawmakers and governors pressed the Obama administration to restore the money, derived primarily from payments by companies for oil and gas leasing and production royalties.

The Interior Department said the money will be given to the states sometime after the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, assuming the current law stays in place.