The Federal Surface Mining Control & Reclamation Act was passed requiring states to regulate surface coal mining and establishing the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to pay for the reclamation of abandoned mine lands by putting a fee on each ton of coal mined.

 

SURFACE MINING CONTROL AND RECLAMATION ACT OF 1977


30 U.S.C. 1201-1328, August 3, 1977, as amended 1978-1982, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1990 and 1992.

Overview. This Act establishes a program for regulating surface coal mining and reclamation activities. It establishes mandatory uniform standards for these activities on state and federal lands, including a requirement that adverse impacts on fish, wildlife and related environmental values be minimized. The Act creates an Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund for use in reclaiming and restoring land and water resources adversely affected by coal mining practices.

Findings/Policy. Congress made a number of findings, including:   coal mining operations contribute significantly to the nation's energy requirements; many surface mining operations result in disturbances of surface areas that adversely affect commerce and the public welfare by destroying or diminishing the utility of land for commercial, industrial, residential, recreational, agricultural and forestry purposes; the expansion of coal mining to meet the nation's energy needs makes urgent the establishment of appropriate standards to minimize damage to the environment and to soil productivity and to protect public health and safety; regulation of surface coal mining operations by the states and the federal government is an appropriate and necessary means to minimize so far as practical the adverse social, economic and environmental effects of surface mining; surface mining and reclamation standards are essential to ensure that competition in interstate commerce among sellers of coal will not be used to undermine the states' ability to improve and maintain adequate standards on coal mining operations within their borders; the impacts from unreclaimed lands impose social and economic costs on residents in nearby areas and continue to impair environmental quality.

The purposes of the Act are to:   establish a nationwide program to protect society and the environment from the adverse effects of surface coal mining operations; assure that surface mining operations are not conducted where reclamation is not feasible and are conducted so as to protect the environment; assure that adequate procedures are undertaken to reclaim surface areas as contemporaneously as possible with the surface coal mining operations; strike a balance between protection of the environment and agricultural productivity and the nation's need for coal as an essential source of energy; assist the states in developing and implementing a program to achieve the purposes of the Act; promote the reclamation of mined areas left without adequate reclamation prior to August 3, 1977. 1201 and 1202.

Selected Definitions. Secretary:  Secretary of the Interior, except where otherwise described. 1291.

Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The Act establishes the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (Office) in the Department of the Interior. The duties of the Secretary, acting through the Office, include: administering programs for controlling surface coal mining operations; renewing, approving or disapproving state programs for controlling surface coal mining operations and reclaiming abandoned mined lands; promulgating regulations necessary to carry out the Act; administering the state grant-in-aid program for developing state programs for surface mining and reclamation operations; administering the program for the purchase and reclamation of abandoned and unreclaimed mined areas; administering the surface mining and reclamation research and demonstration project authority; developing and maintaining an information and data center on mining impacts and reclamation; assisting the states in developing state programs for surface coal mining and reclamation operations that meet the Act's requirements and reflect local requirements and environmental and agricultural conditions; assisting the states in developing objective scientific criteria for determining state areas unsuitable for surface coal mining; monitoring federal and state research programs dealing with coal extraction and use; recommending to Congress research and demonstration projects and necessary changes in public policy to improve feasibility of underground coal mining and improve surface mining and reclamation techniques directed at eliminating adverse environmental and social impacts. 1211.

Mining and Minerals Research. The Act authorizes to be appropriated funds to provide each participating state $400,000 for each fiscal year 1990-1994, to support a mining and mineral resources research institute or center at a public college or university in the state which meets the Act's eligibility criteria.

The Act also authorizes to be appropriated not more than $15,000,000 for each fiscal year 1990-1994, to support institutes participating in a generic mineral technology center engaged in:   specific mineral research and demonstration projects of broad application; research into any aspects of mining and mineral resources problems related to the mission of the Department of the Interior. The Act sets forth criteria for the Secretary in making funding decisions. 1222.

The Act directs the Secretary to appoint a Committee on Mining and Mineral Resources Research to:   consult with and make recommendations to the Secretary on mining and mineral resources research matters and the required determinations under the Act; develop a national plan for research in mining and mineral resources; formulate and recommend a program to implement the plan; determine the eligibility of a college or university to participate as a mining and mineral resources research institute using specified criteria. The Act also directs the Secretary to establish a Strategic Resources Mineral Technology Center to improve existing, and develop new, technologies that will decrease the dependence of the U.S. on supplies of strategic and critical minerals. 1221-1230a.

Abandoned Mine Reclamations. The Act creates the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund (Fund) to be administered by the Secretary. Among other purposes, the fund may be used to:   reclaim and restore land and water resources adversely affected by past coal mining, including reclamation and restoration of abandoned surface mine areas; prevent and control water pollution caused by coal mine drainage; prevent and control coal mine subsidence; seal and fill abandoned deep mine entries and voids; acquire and fill voids and seal tunnels, shafts and entryways. The Act directs that Fund expenditures on eligible lands and waters reflect stated priorities in a given order, including the restoration of land and water resources and the environment degraded by coal mining practices. Restoration includes measures to conserve and develop soil, water, woodland, fish and wildlife, recreation sources and agricultural productivity. The Act requires annual reports to Congress on operations under the Fund and recommendations for future Fund uses. 1231, 1233 and 1241.

The Act requires all coal mine operators to pay to the Secretary a quarterly reclamation fee and submit a statement of the amount of coal produced during the quarter, the method of coal removal, and the type of coal. A person who knowingly makes a false statement in this regard, or fails to make a required statement, is subject to a criminal fine, one year of imprisonment, or both. (See the summary of the Sentencing Refrm Act of 1984 for more information on criminal penalties.) The Secretary is to conduct audits of coal productions and fee payment necessary to ensure full compliance. 1232.

Lands and water eligible for reclamation or drainage abatement expenditures are those that were mined for coal or affected by mining, wastebanks, coal processing or other coal mining processes, and abandoned or left in an inadequate reclamation status prior to enactment of the Act. The Act directs the Secretary to maintain an inventory of eligible lands and waters. 1234.

The Secretary must issue regulations to implement an abandoned mine reclamation program and establish procedures and requirements for preparing, submitting and approving state programs. Each state with coal mined lands eligible for reclamation may submit to the Secretary a state reclamation plan and annual projects. Upon approval of a state plan, the Secretary is to grant the state exclusive responsibility and authority, and funds necessary, to implement the program. 1235.

The Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into agreements of not more than ten years with landowners to provide for land reclamation through a mutually agreeable conservation and development plan supported by federal matching grants. If the Secretary, or a state under an approved state program, finds that land or water resources have been affected adversely by past coal mining practices and the owners will not give permission to reclaim the resources, the Secretary or state may enter upon the property to reclaim the resources. The Secretary or a state may enter upon any property to conduct studies or exploratory work. 1236 and 1237.

The Secretary is authorized to fill voids and seal abandoned tunnels that could endanger life and property or degrade the environment. The Secretary also has emergency powers for Fund expenditures and access to land for the emergency restoration, reclamation, abatement, control or prevention of adverse effects of coal mining practices. 1239 and 1240.

Regulation of Environmental Impacts. The Act requires the Secretary to promulgate regulations for a permanent regulatory procedure to:   establish environmental protection performance standards for surface coal mining and reclamation operations; establish procedures and requirements for preparing, submitting and approving state programs; develop and implement federal programs for reclamation. The Act specifically does not supersede state laws or regulation that impose land use and environmental controls on surface coal mining and reclamation that are stricter than the Act or its regulations.

States with surface coal mining operations on non-federal lands that wish to assume exclusive regulatory jurisdiction over the mining and reclamation operations must submit a program to the Secretary. The program must include:   a state law authorizing regulation of surface coal mining and reclamation operations in accordance with the Act; a state law providing sanctions for violations of state laws, regulations or permit conditions; a state regulatory authority with sufficient funding and personnel to carry out the Act's requirements; a state law implementing and enforcing a permit system for regulation of surface coal mining and reclamation on state lands; a process for designating state areas as unsuitable for surface coal mining (with designation of federal lands performed by the Secretary in consultation with the state); a process to avoid duplication of state and federal permit issuance; regulations consistent with federal regulations issued under the Act.

The Act sets forth actions the Secretary must take prior to approving a program, including finding that the state has legal authority and qualified personnel for enforcement of the required environmental protection standards. If the Secretary disapproves a program, the state may resubmit a revised program. If a state fails to submit a program, resubmit an acceptable program or implement, enforce, or maintain an approved program, the Secretary is to prepare, promulgate and implement a federal program for the state.

The Secretary also must implement a federal program for surface coal mining and reclamation operations that take place pursuant to federal law on federal lands. This program must incorporate all of the Act's requirements and take into consideration the diverse physical, climatological and other unique characteristics of the lands.

The Act prohibits conducting surface coal mining operations without obtaining a permit issued by the state pursuant to an approved state program or by the Secretary pursuant to a federal program. The Act sets forth in detail the required permit application contents, including a reclamation plan. Reclamation plans must include a statement of: pre-mining land condition; post-mining land use and how that use is to be achieved; the consideration given to developing the plan in a manner consistent with local physical, environmental and climatological conditions. The Act contains detailed requirements for plan approval, public notice and hearings, and appeals.

Permits carry with them a right of successive renewal. Permits will be renewed unless the regulatory authority makes certain findings, including that the terms and conditions of the permit are not being met or that the mining operation is not in compliance with the environmental protection standards and the state or federal program.

The Act provides that permits must require that the surface coal mining operations meet all environmental protection performance standards. The Act sets forth 25 general performance standards applicable to all surface coal mining and reclamation operations, including that the operation must:   restore the land to the pre-mining use or a reasonably likely higher use; restore the topsoil or the best available subsoil to support vegetation; ensure that reclamation efforts proceed in an environmentally sound manner and as contemporaneously as practical with the mining operations; to the extent possible using the best technology available, minimize disturbances and adverse impacts on fish, wildlife, and related environmental values, and achieve enhancement of these resources where practical. The Act contains additional standards for steep-slope mining. Permits for underground coal mining must contain a variety of requirements, including that the operator use the best available technology to minimize disturbance and adverse impacts on fish, wildlife and related environmental values, to the extent practical, and enhance these resources when practical.

The Act prohibits, after August 3, 1977, and subject to existing permits, surface coal mining operations on specified lands including those within the boundaries of units of the National Park System, the National Wildlife Refuge Systems, the National System of Trails, the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, including rivers designated for study, and National Recreation Areas.

The Act sets forth detailed inspection and monitoring provisions. The Secretary may assess civil penalties up to $5,000 per violation for violating a permit condition. Willfully resisting, preventing, impeding or interfering with the Secretary or agents in the performance of duties pursuant to the Act is a criminal offense subject to a fine, imprisonment up to one year, or both. A person with an interest that is or may be affected adversely may commence a civil action against the U.S. or against the Secretary or appropriate state regulatory authority to compel compliance with the Act. 1251-1279 and 1294.

Suitability of Federal Lands for Noncoal Mining. The Act authorizes the Secretary to review areas within federal lands to assess whether they are unsuitable for mining of minerals or materials other than coal. The Secretary must follow specified procedures in making this determination. 1281.

Studies. The Act directs the Secretary to contract with the National Academy of Sciences-National Academy of Engineering for an in-depth study of surface coal mining conditions in Alaska to determine which, if any, of the provisions of the Act should be modified with respect to surface coal mining operations in Alaska. 1298.

The Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality is directed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences-National Academy of Engineering for an in-depth study of current and developing technology for surface and open pit mining and reclamation for minerals other than coal. The study is to assist in establishing effective and reasonable regulation of surface and open pit mining and reclamation for minerals other than coal. 1299.

To encourage advances in mining and reclamation practices or to allow post-mining land use for industrial, commercial, residential or public use, the regulatory authority, with approval by the Secretary, may authorize individual departures on an experimental basis from the environmental protection performance standards promulgated under the Act. 1301.

Appropriations Authorized. Congress authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary various sums to carry out specified sections of the Act. 1302.