Verification of Abandoned Coal Mine Reclamation Fees Reported and Paid to the Department of the Interior Through Third Party Sources

RCED-84-202: Published: Sep 28, 1984. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reported on why information from third party sources on the extent of underreporting of reclamation fees due and payable to the Department of the Interior for coal produced by surface and underground mining was not available.

GAO found no legal authority which would allow it to have access to the records of private parties, such as private railroads and tipple operators, to obtain energy information. GAO authority to obtain records from private parties is limited to information relating to Department of Energy matters or to the recipients of federal funds or assistance under provisions of the Federal Energy Administration Act; therefore, GAO does not have access to the private records of third parties for investigations concerning Interior matters. In addition, GAO found that the Interstate Commerce Commission cannot disclose information on individual shippers except as directed by the Commission, a court, or a judge. GAO found that the information that Interior could provide would not be useful in this investigation. Further, voluntary release of coal production data by railroad lines would jeopardize the company's relationship with its customers and, without a court order, company records could not be obtained. However, a recent district court decision found that Interior has too narrowly defined its authority to regulate coal processing operations. This decision, if upheld, could result in a substantial expansion of Interior's authority to obtain the records of tipple operators.

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