Surface Mining:

Interior's Response to Abandoned Mine Emergencies

RCED-89-74: Published: Jan 31, 1989. Publicly Released: Feb 14, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement's (OSMRE) report to a congressional subcommittee on its handling of requests for emergency reclamation of abandoned mine land sites, focusing on: (1) the accuracy and completeness of the OSMRE report; (2) how long it took OSMRE to process emergency complaints; and (3) whether OSMRE-approved emergency projects met the established criteria.

GAO examined OSMRE case files for Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and found that: (1) the OSMRE report was inaccurate and did not include all emergency complaints it received from 1983 through 1987; (2) it could not verify about 77 percent of the OSMRE case files it sampled; (3) although OSMRE had not established criteria to judge the timeliness of its response to emergency complaints, its inspectors visited mine sites within 48 hours after receipt of an emergency complaint 64 percent of the time; (4) it took OSMRE an average of 97 days from the time it investigated an emergency complaint to either award a construction contract or deny the complaint; and (5) none of the 57 emergency project files it reviewed included sufficient documentation to determine whether OSMRE-approved projects met all established criteria.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior has taken appropriate corrective action on this recommendation. No further followup is needed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, OSMRE, to: (1) develop written instructions and guidance as to how case files should be structured, including criteria as to what minimum documentation is required; (2) periodically review complaint case files to ensure that all required information is included; and (3) establish a process to periodically review the status of emergency projects to ensure that timely corrective action is being taken commensurate with the urgency associated with the emergency.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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