Surface Mining:

Difficulties in Reclaiming Mined Lands in Pennsylvania and West Virginia

RCED-86-221: Published: Sep 22, 1986. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reported on the bonding systems for reclamation of strip-mined land in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

GAO found that: (1) unreclaimed acreage exists in both states, posing risks to the health and safety of the public and environment; (2) the interim program bond amounts in Pennsylvania and, to a lesser extent, in West Virginia, have not been adequate to reclaim all interim program lands; and (3) the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has not formally assessed the adequacy of the permanent program bonding systems in either state or the impact of using reclamation funds for program administration on the ability of the states to reclaim their bond forfeiture lands.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to ensure the reclamation of coal-mined lands, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to work with the states to ensure that all bond forfeiture lands are quickly assessed and the most hazardous sites are reclaimed rapidly.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior believes that any bonding requirements, including forfeiture and site assessment procedures applicable to interim sites, are the exclusive jurisdiction of the states. Interior also believes that it is too early to assess the adequacy of permanent program alternative bonding systems. Consequently, no action is planned at this time.

    Recommendation: Because environmental problems may arise if sites remain unreclaimed for extended periods of time, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to study, compare, and contrast the state reclamation processes and work with the states to implement the most efficient and effective reclamation process.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior responded that it believes OSMRE state oversight procedures already provide for the review and comparison of permanent program reclamation processes and that no changes are needed. Interior noted, however, that it plans to provide oversight data and encourage states to reduce any undue delays in getting interim forfeiture sites reclaimed.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that adequate funds are available to reclaim forfeited mine sites, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to take the lead in examining the interim program funding problem and report to Congress its recommendations for ensuring the reclamation of these lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior responded that, in its opinion, it is inappropriate for OSMRE to ensure that funds are available to reclaim interim program forfeiture sites. Further, it does not believe that OSMRE has the authority to effect changes to state interim program bond forfeiture procedures and, to do so, would require amending the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that adequate funds are available to reclaim forfeited mine sites, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to develop formal criteria for evaluating the adequacy of alternative bonding systems, and determine the adequacy of existing alternative bonding systems, including the impact that expenditures for program administration have on the ability of the states to reclaim abandoned lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior responded that OSMRE already has formal procedures for evaluating the adequacy of permanent program alternative bonding systems, and that OSMRE also conducts special reviews of alternative bonding systems. Consequently, it does not see the need to develop additional procedures or take additional steps, at this time.

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