Issues Surrounding the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

CED-79-83: Published: Sep 21, 1979. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 1979.

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It is the intent of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 that the States be responsible for regulating surface coal mining and undertaking reclamation of abandoned mines. However, the States have found it difficult to meet the law's timetable for developing programs, because the Department of the Interior was late in issuing program regulations.

The coal operators and the States claim that the Interior regulations are too stringent, and are designed to take away regulatory responsibility from the States. Interior believes its regulations allow the States and coal operators flexibility while assuring that the standards are achieved and uniformly maintained. An Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund was established under the act to be financed from fees levied on current coal mining operators. About half of the more than $200 million collected from the coal operators for this fund are currently idle, waiting for State and surface mining and regulatory and reclamation programs to be developed and approved by Interior.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Matter: It is recommended that Congress consider these three alternatives concerning the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund: continue the present policy to encourage the States to achieve primacy by providing a strong economic incentive to induce the States to complete the process of gaining Interior approval of their State regulatory programs; amend section 405(c) of the act to grant Interior the authority to approve a State's abandoned mine reclamation program whether or not that State has an approved State regulatory program so that the States can start reclaiming and restoring land and water resources harmed by past coal mining; and amend section 405(c) of the act to allow Interior to provide "seed" money from the reclamation fund for preliminary engineering design work on projects that the States plan to undertake.


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