Surface Mining:

Regulatory Capability of Indian Tribes Should Be Assessed

RCED-87-34: Published: Oct 6, 1986. Publicly Released: Nov 5, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed issues involving the regulation of surface coal mining on Indian lands, specifically the success of cooperative agreements between the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and the Navajo, Crow, and Hopi tribes, in advancing tribal regulatory proficiency.

GAO found that OSMRE: (1) successfully monitors the tribes' progress in completing the cooperative agreements' tasks; and (2) has not comprehensively assessed whether the tribes' regulatory proficiency is such that the tribes could assume primary responsibility for regulating coal mining and reclamation activities on their lands. The tasks that the tribes must perform include: (1) developing and maintaining a general administration system to manage the regulatory and reclamation program activities; (2) assisting OSMRE in mine plan reviews, inspection and enforcement activities, and performance bond release reviews; (3) participating in technical and administrative training courses; (4) developing tribal mining laws and regulations; (5) determining the known or suspected eligible lands and waters that require reclamation; (6) developing a tribal abandoned mine land reclamation plan; and (7) writing reports to support implementation of specific reclamation projects.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior completed the recommended tribal regulatory capability in August 1987. OSMRE questioned whether giving additional grants to the tribes to prepare them for primacy would be worthwhile, since Indian tribes cannot assume primacy and regulations of coal mining under SMCRA, unless Congress passes authorization legislation under section 710, which does not appear likely in the near future.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to assess the current tribal regulatory capabilities to determine their readiness for assuming primacy. In those areas where the tribes are judged not ready, OSMRE should identify the specific weaknesses. OSMRE should direct future cooperative agreements toward improving specific regulatory deficiencies identified and evaluating the tribes' performance in correcting those deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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