Surface Mining:

Interior Department Oversight of State Permitting and Bonding Activities

RCED-86-38: Published: Dec 23, 1985. Publicly Released: Jan 24, 1986.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's (OSMRE) oversight of state permitting and bonding activities, specifically whether OSMRE oversight: (1) provides adequate assurance that state permitting activities are in compliance with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977; and (2) enables it to determine the adequacy of performance bonds established to ensure the reclamation of mined land.

GAO noted that: (1) 24 of the 27 coal states have primary responsibility for developing and enforcing state regulatory programs to control mining within their borders; and (2) OSMRE eastern and western technical centers review state permitting and bonding activities and report their results to the field offices. GAO found that: (1) OSMRE oversight guidance generally outlines the review process, but until recently, it did not include detailed procedures on how the reviews should be conducted; (2) reviewers used different criteria in each state to determine what permits to review, and they prepared little or no documentation to support their findings; (3) technical center findings have often been dropped when challenged by state regulatory and OSMRE field office officials; and (4) some review findings contained errors or misinterpretations of the state's program and included deficiencies which had already been corrected. GAO also found that: (1) a few detailed calculations were made to determine the appropriateness of performance bond amounts; (2) bond adequacy was not addressed in 15 of the 24 states having primary enforcement authority; (3) in those states where the centers commented on bond adequacy, six states were reported as having insufficient bonds to cover the costs of reclamation; and (4) OSMRE developed draft guidelines which require the technical centers to determine the adequacy of bond amounts, but the guidelines do not address how this determination should be done.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSMRE revised the bonding section of the final 1987 oversight guidance to require that, in evaluating the adequacy of the state's bonding determinations, OSMRE prepare independent estimates of direct reclamation costs using applicable methodology in the OSMRE Bond Estimating Handbook.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to revise the draft bonding guidelines to incorporate procedures for determining the adequacy of reclamation performance bonds established by state regulatory authorities.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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