Surface Mining:

State and Federal Use of Alternative Enforcement Techniques

RCED-87-160: Published: Aug 20, 1987. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 1987.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed state and federal use of alternative enforcement techniques under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, focusing on: (1) whether states with primacy for mining regulation have statutory authority to use, and are using, the alternative techniques; (2) whether the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) uses such techniques in states where it has primacy; and (3) the extent to which OSMRE monitors state use of alternative techniques.

GAO found that: (1) all of the primacy states it reviewed had statutory authority to use alternative techniques, including injunctions, civil penalties, criminal charges, or mining permit actions, but none of the states developed systems to ensure that they were appropriately using all of the alternative techniques; (2) of the available techniques, states most often chose to revoke or suspend mining permits; (3) 13 states established specific deadlines for initiating alternative enforcement action in the absence of abatement; (4) OSMRE most often attempts to obtain injunctive relief against uncooperative mine operators; and (5) initial OSMRE reviews generally focused on states' authority to use alternative techniques but, in 1987, OSMRE directed its field offices to assess how states were implementing alternative techniques.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As OSMRE establishes additional rules related to individual civil penalties, states will be required to amend their programs to meet federal standards. OSMRE made alternative enforcement a national priority review issue in its fiscal year 1988 oversight reviews of the state programs.

    Recommendation: In order to improve the act's enforcement, the Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to require states to develop systems necessary to ensure that alternative enforcement techniques are appropriately used. Such systems should allow for the use of regulatory judgment, but should include written policies and procedures to guide regulators' actions on such matters as when, and under what conditions, alternative techniques would be used.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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