Surface Coal Mining: Financial Assurances for, and Long-Term Oversight of, Mines with Valley Fills in Four Appalachian States

GAO-10-206 Published: Jan 14, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2010.
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Surface mining for coal in Appalachia has generated opposition because rock and dirt from mountaintops is often removed and placed in nearby valleys and streams. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) in the Department of the Interior and states with approved programs regulate these mines under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and states also regulate different aspects of coal mining, including the filling of valley streams, under the Clean Water Act. Under SMCRA, mine operators must provide financial assurances sufficient to allow mines to be reclaimed. Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps may require financial assurances that the impact of mines on streams can be mitigated. GAO was asked to examine (1) the approaches OSM, the states, and the Corps have taken to obtain financial assurances for surface coal mines with valley fills; (2) federal and state agencies' monitoring of these mines after reclamation and mitigation are complete; and (3) the federal laws agencies may use, and have used, to address latent environmental problems. GAO gathered information from state and federal agencies in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia about their financial assurances practices, long-term monitoring, and use of federal laws to address environmental impacts at former mine sites. This report makes no recommendations.

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