Abandoned Mine Reclamation:

Interior May Have Approved State Shifts to Noncoal Projects Prematurely

RCED-91-162: Published: Jun 7, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 9, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reported on the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's (OSMRE) process for allowing states to spend federal surface coal mine reclamation funds to address noncoal reclamation problems, focusing on whether OSMRE ensured that states met the certification requirements.

GAO found that: (1) the OSMRE certification review process did not ensure that states addressed all sites adversely affected by past coal mining practices prior to OSMRE approval of state requests to use federal funds for noncoal reclamation; (2) OSMRE funded reclamation projects in accordance with Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) priorities related to public health, safety, and general welfare, restoration of land and water resources and the environment, research and development, and public facilities and land; (3) to receive discretionary funds, states needed to show that they had reclamation needs as reflected in a national inventory of abandoned coal mine land problem areas; (4) coal-related reclamation projects competed with noncoal reclamation sites for funds that were limited to state share monies; (5) when approving a certification request, OSMRE did not independently verify whether a state had addressed all priority-3 through -6 coal projects, relying on the governor's certification statement that all coal problems had been addressed; (6) the lack of OSMRE policy and guidance to address SMCRA certification requirements contributed to the confusion over certification; and (7) OSMRE did not effectively communicate that states would lose further access to discretionary funds once the certification had been approved.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior included the recommended policy and guidance in a proposed rule. The final rule was published on May 31, 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, OSMRE, to adopt policies consistent with SMCRA and require reasonable assurance that all eligible coal projects, including priority-3 through -6 projects, have been addressed before approving state requests for certification. To assist its field offices and the states in accomplishing this, OSMRE should develop written policy and guidance on how: (1) all coal reclamation projects are to be identified and addressed; and (2) OSMRE will verify a state's certification request.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior included the recommended guidance in a proposed rule. The final rule was published May 31, 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, OSMRE, to formally notify states of OSMRE policy regarding the implications of certification, which is a state can no longer share in the Secretary's discretionary funds once its request for certification has been approved.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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