Actions Needed to Improve the Safety of Coal Mine Waste Disposal Sites

CED-77-82: Published: Sep 21, 1977. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 1977.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

About 228 million tons of coal waste were created in mining 650 million tons of coal in the United States during 1976. Disposing of such huge quantities of waste material can cause environmental problems depending on how and where the waste is dumped.

Though conditions of most disposal sites were improved, many sites were abandoned and require immediate attention. Coal waste dams, used for disposal in mountainous areas, can be flood hazards when improperly constructed and maintained. In 1972, such a dam burst and released a wall of water into Buffalo Creek, killing 125 people. After this disaster, Congress enacted the National Dam Inspection Act of 1972, but this was never fully implemented because responsibilities were not clearly established. Inspections performed by the Corps of Engineers revealed that, of 687 structures inspected, 230 were dangerous, and 30 of these were critically hazardous. Because the Department of the Interior interpreted the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 as limiting its authority to regulating active mine property, it has not regulated abandoned sites.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The Department of the Interior should: (1) interpret more broadly its statutory responsibility for regulating abandoned sites; (2) implement title IV of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 in conjunction with the states to identify all hazardous abandoned sites; (3) take steps to improve its inspection of coal waste disposal sites and enforcement of federal regulations covering sites; and (4) effectively communicate results of its research on coal waste disposal. If Interior does not carry out these responsibilities, Congress should clarify its legislative authority.


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Feb 8, 2018

Feb 6, 2018

Dec 21, 2017

Dec 7, 2017

Nov 20, 2017

Oct 26, 2017

Oct 23, 2017

Jun 22, 2017

May 30, 2017

May 18, 2017

Looking for more? Browse all our products here