Coal Trespass in the Eastern States--More Federal Oversight Needed

EMD-79-69: Published: May 25, 1979. Publicly Released: May 30, 1979.

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The illegal mining of federal coal, particularly in Alabama, has caused recent public and congressional concern. Published estimates of potential losses to the government, based on the value of the coal, range from $135 million to over $1 billion throughout the eastern states.

Despite an awareness of coal trespass in Alabama and Maryland, and the likelihood of additional cases in other Eastern States, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) eastern states office has not taken aggressive and timely steps to investigate and prosecute trespassers due to an initial failure to recognize the significance of the trespasses; and a lack of adequate staff, investigative procedures, and guidance from agency headquarters. Although BLM had indications of trespass in Alabama as early as 1975, the Secretary of the Interior was not informed of the problem until January 1979. As of April 1979, recovery of damages had been sought in only 1 of the 50 identified cases. GAO noted that statutory limitations may adversely affect the government's collection efforts. BLM has not completed the essential mapping of federal minerals underlying federal, state, and private lands in any of the eastern states, and it has no program for obtaining other resource data. In general, BLM lacks presence, public awareness programs, and administrative control over the surface lands in the eastern states, making management of coal reserves difficult.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior, through BLM and its eastern states office, should develop an overall plan to safeguard and otherwise manage federal coal in the eastern states, including immediate steps to: (1) establish an effective investigative approach and an appropriately staffed work group to deal with existing trespass cases on a timely basis; (2) follow through on the federal coal mapping program; and (3) establish an aggressive trespass identification program and an expanded public awareness program. The Secretary should determine the best interest of the government in either expending the additional resources necessary to properly manage the coal or seeking an equitable means of divesting the agency of this responsibility.

    Agency Affected:


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