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Surface coal mining in the mountainous areas of Appalachia--often called "mountaintop mining"--generates controversy, in part because of its scale and the post-mining appearance of the land. Yet there is limited public access to information on the size, location, and life span of these operations, or on how the land can be expected to look afterward. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to report on the characteristics of (1) surface coal mining and (2) reclaimed lands that were disturbed by surface coal mining in the mountainous, eastern part of Kentucky and in West Virginia, where most such mining occurs. Federal and state law requires mining operators to obtain permits before mining. Among other things, the permits identify the acres under open permit (the acres subject to mining associated with a permit that has not been closed) and how the land will be reclaimed--including the post-mining land use, whether the approximate original contour (AOC) of the land will be restored, and the extent to which excess earth, rock, and other materials (known as "spoil") are placed in nearby valleys. For this study, GAO relied on electronic databases of mining permits maintained by Kentucky and West Virginia. This report makes no recommendations. In commenting on a draft of this report, the Department of the Interior and the two state mining agencies generally agreed with our findings

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