Comments on Interior's Surface Mining Regulations

CED-81-145: Published: Aug 5, 1981. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1981.

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GAO has been reviewing the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) regulations implementing the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

GAO identified several issues which OSM should consider while it is revising its regulations. OSM needs to review its support for its revised blasting regulations concerning the use of explosives. Also, a legislative change may be needed to clarify the act's blast damage provision, which does not allow any building structure damage off the mine permit area. OSM needs to emphasize alternatives to bonding while revising its regulations to help small mine operators. Legislative changes may be needed to preserve prime farmlands by limiting the grandfather clause and land-use options. OSM design standards do not adequately address the differing climatological, geological, and topographical conditions of each coal mining area and thereby limit state and coal mine operator flexibility in controlling sediment. The state regulatory authority could be allowed to decide, on a site-by-site basis, the best method of controlling sediment. A legislative change is needed to allow a site-by-site analysis to prevent acid water drainage. As excess spoil standards seem excessive, alternative methods of spoil material disposal should be considered. OSM needs to be cognizant of regulatory redundancy to prevent unnecessary regulation of mine access roads. The Department of the Interior should also consider whether OSM and the states have the monitoring, inspection, and enforcement resources to ensure compliance with the act and OSM regulations. The environment could be severely damaged by inadequate enforcement and coal operators put out of business by excessive regulation.

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