Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (1977) outline by bbr96025


									1.0 INTRODUCTION
     1.1 Purpose of the Report

     This report discusses the history of aspects of surface mining which led to the

     creation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (“Surface

     Mining Law” or SMCRA) and the effectiveness of the act after it was written into

     law. Members of the mining industry and advocates for environmental protection

     will find understanding the intentions and effects of the Surface Mining Law

     beneficial to their interests.

     1.2 Background of the Report

     With every mined piece of land there is risk for environmental damage.

     Implementing a law such as the SMCRA to reduce or prevent lasting environmental

     harm is crucial. To fully appreciate and comprehend the legal and environmental

     issues in this report an ability to learn about basic geological and bureaucratic

     concepts is recommended. Evaluating the strengths and areas for development in

     the Surface Mining Law will lead to future progress in preventing land damage.

     1.3 Scope of the Report

     This report explains the reasons for developing the SMCRA, the progress of

     individual mining states, and the responsibilities of the Office of Surface Mining

     (OSM). Additionally the report provides specific examples of how surface mined

     terrain can suffer if it is not properly maintained. Not included in this report are

     arguments against the Surface Mining Law, but rather references to some of its

     areas for improvement.


2.1 The definition of surface mining

Surface mining techniques are used to extract coal or other valued minerals that are

within 30 to 90 feet of the surface [7]. This type of mining requires moving

overlying soil and rock off to the side as spoil to access the coal. After mining

operations complete, the surface can be re-contoured and reclaimed [1].

2.2 The four types of mining

The four most common types of surface mining are area mining, contour mining,

auger mining, and open-pit mining [1]. Predominately in the Midwest and in the

Rocky mountains, mine operators use area mining to gain access to coal that lies

horizontally beneath the surface [1]. In the Appalachian Mountains, contour

mining is used to find coal that lies in flat continuous beds. Recent federal

regulations have outlawed most contour mining practices, such as leaving exposed

highwall and spoil on the mountain side [1]. Mine operators will utilize auger

mining primarily in salvage operations when removing overburden seems

uneconomical. Finally, open-pit mining occurs in the western states where coal

seams are at least 100 feet thick. This mining technique frequently results in the

operators leaving an exposed coal seam [1].

2.3 Acid runoff and vegetation removal

Before any national surface mining laws took affect mine operators usually would

not return the land to its original contour. The permanent change in the land’s

composition displaces important topsoil and removes vegetation. Additionally,

removing topsoil and overburden can alter the direction in which groundwater will

    drain. Frequently the acid runoff from mining operations can contaminate the

    terrain and cross paths with potential drinking water sources [1].

    2.4 How surface mining relates to erosion

    The damage and removal of native vegetation following mining operations

    increases the chance for erosion [1]. During erosion processes, valuable minerals

    and sediments that enrich the land are transported to another location. With time

    the region surrounding the mine continues to degrade and weather away.

    2.5 Influential Case Studies

    Between 1976 and 1978 the United States Department of Agriculture and the

    Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted a study in northern Arizona

    examining the characteristics of mined terrain. The EPA examined mineral wastes

    which consist of barren overburden, submarginal grade ore, milling wastes, and

    strip mine spoils. Studies have concluded that mineral wastes have the most serious

    impact on air quality in the southwestern United States [7]. Additionally, the EPA

    examined reclamation and determined that coal mine spoils should be evaluated for

    their levels of nitrogen and phosphorous content in order to have the must

    successful vegetation growth. Case studies like this provided an extra push towards

    signing the SMCRA into law.

    3.1 General requirements set forth by SMCRA

    Far too often mining practices abuse the surrounding land, even long after the

    mining operation take place. In 1977 Congress wrote into law the Surface Mining

    Control and Reclamation Act with the following five requirements [2]:

          Mine operators must demonstrate reclamation capability

          Mined land must be reshaped to its original contour with topsoil

           replacement and replanting

          Mining is prohibited on prime western agricultural land, and farmers and

           ranchers in the area hold veto power

          The hydrological environment must be protected, especially from acid


          $4.1 billon must be established to reclaim abandoned surface mines

3.2 SMCRA’s regulation of surface mines

The Surface Mining Law requires that mining operators meet minimum

environmental safety measures and obtain permits before mining [9]. To obtain a

permit the mine operator must explain in detail what parts of the land will be mined

and how he plans to reclaim the land. Additionally, the mine operator must submit

a bond to cover cost of reclamation in case the mining crew does not do a

satisfactory job of revitalizing the land. Finally the miners must yield to the

authority of government inspectors and promptly remedy any “notices of violation”


3.3 Reclamation of surface mines

The passage of the SMCRA forced mine operators to reclaim all mined land after

completing their projects. Unfortunately, some mine operators ignore this statute.

Law makers addressed such conflicts by creating the Abandoned Mine Land

(AML) fund to pay for the cleanup of abandoned mines and surrounding lands. The

    AML fund is financed by 35 cents per ton of surface mined coal, 15 cents per ton

    for coal mined underground, and 10 cents per ton for lignite [9].

    4.1 Methods for evaluating the Surface Mining Law

    The effectiveness of the SMCRA should be evaluated by observing the top mining

    states; Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Montana, and Wyoming.

    The Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the SMCRA require mine operators to

    have permits, draw detailed topography maps of the mining area, and develop

    methods for preventing adverse environmental conditions during or after mining

    [5]. Also the miners must submit detailed plans for reclaiming the land to its

    original contour and condition. For the SMCRA to be truly effective its policies

    must be enforced rigorously and in a timely manner.

    4.2 Assessing permits

    Of the six major mining states Wyoming and Montana have done a good job of

    requiring thorough mining plans and detailed maps in their permit applications.

    Wyoming and Montana routinely follow up with miners to track their progress and

    issued citations fairly. On the other hand, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania,

    and Illinois had less thorough permit applications and had inadequate interagency

    communication [5].

    4.3 Assessing reclamation bonds

    Mine operators are required by the SMCRA to submit insurance (reclamation

    bonds) before commencing with their mining operations. The reclamation bonds

    can be used to revitalize the land if miners chose not to follow through with their

reclamation obligations. If the land is properly reclaimed then bonds are refunded

to the mine operators. Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia are known for

performing their bonding, bond forfeiture, and bond release functions adequately.

However, Pennsylvania at one time had a large backlog of bond forfeiture appeals,

so many times the mined land would degrade during the delay for the appeal

results. Kentucky has the worst bonding record of the six major mining states for

charging lower than necessary bond amounts, and very slow bond forfeiture and

refunds [5].

4.4 Assessing Inspection Frequency

The Surface Mining Law requires that either the state or the OSM inspect a mining

site at least twelve times per year [5]. The states that frequently and completely

inspect mines are taking advantage of the provisions of the SMCRA. Montana,

West Virginia, and Wyoming have generally inspected their sites completely and

regularly. Illinois and Pennsylvania have not had complete or well documented

inspections. Although Kentucky has a respectable frequency of inspections, they

are rarely complete. One study showed that “in about 70% of the oversight

inspections where OSM found violations, those violations had existed during state

inspection but had not been cited by a state inspector” [5].

4.5 Assessing citations and cessation orders

Issuing “notice of violations”, or citations are essential for prompt correction of

issues and future compliance to the SMCRA provisions. Montana and Wyoming

are the strictest, as almost no uncited violations occurred. West Virginia failed to

cite violations concerning “water monitoring, temporary cessation of operations and

handling of toxic material” [5]. Additionally, for every “one violation Illinois

found, OSM would find four violations” [5]. Pennsylvania had a poor start with

writing citations, but did drastically improve by 1986 [5]. Finally, Kentucky has

the worst record with the written citations to apparent violations ratio.

4.6 Assessing enforcement of penalty collections

It is important to understand that the penalty amount “imposed” on mine operators

is usually more than the amount actually collected from the operator. Also, a

system of assessing penalties is useless unless the money is actually collected. Nine

years after the SMCRA was created “of the $108 million in civil penalties due…to

the federal government, only $8.6 million had been collected” [5]. Wyoming,

Montana, and Pennsylvania determined penalty amounts with consistency;

however, only Montana and Wyoming collected 100% of all fines issued. Illinois

reviewed all citations for a penalty, but of the penalties issued they only collected

39% of them. Kentucky consistently had low penalty assessments and refused to

change their penalty system even after OSM requested that they do so [5].

4.7 Assessing environmental impacts

The environmental impacts from the SMCRA vary based on each state’s

enforcement of the act. For example, Wyoming and Montana saw the greatest

environmental improvements because they implemented all stages of the SMCRA

with efficiency, consistency, and good organizations. States such as Illinois,

Pennsylvania, and West Virginia saw mediocre improvements in the environment.

Not surprisingly, Kentucky’s lack of enforcement of the Act has caused few

noticeable environmental improvements.

    5.1 The Role of OSM

    The Surface Mining Law requires the OSM to inspect mining operations and

    evaluate the state’s performance in implementing the SMCRA’s provisions. States

    feel inclined to maintain successful SMCRA programs, or they will risk as loss of

    federal funding [6].

    5.2 Introduce preempted management

    States generally choose to lead the implementation of the SMCRA and the federal

    government (OSM) will have a supervising role. The OSM will “preempt” power if

    the state does not fulfill its duties required by the Surface Mining Law [6].

    Therefore, cooperation exists between the federal and state governments in

    enforcing the SMCRA.

    5.3 Discuss economic correlations to inspections, violations, and enforcement

    A state’s economic status correlates to its willingness to enforce the SMCRA.

    Wealthier states can afford to advocate and pay for environmental regulatory

    programs. Poorer states are not willing to risk alienating a crucial industry for the

    sake of enforcing environmental regulations.

    5.4 Discuss political correlations to inspections, violations and enforcement

    Democratic states generally show more concern for environmental protection.

    Consequently, the Democratic states will issue citations more often than Republican

    states. Additionally, states with a history for environmental concern are likely to

    use cessation orders.

    5.5 The number and size of mines effect OSM and state supervision

     Studies have shown that inspections “are less likely to be conducted in states with a

     large number of coal mines or those with a high percentage of small firms” [6].

     Inspectors find it more cost effective to concentrate on big firms that operate mines

     on a high number of acres [6].

     5.6 The conflicted goals of OSM

     OSM was set up in part to listen to the citizens; however, generally OSM files a

     citation or cessation order because of a federal court ruling instead of a citizen

     complaint. Also, OSM struggles to balance letting states exercise authority and

     knowing when to get involved to assist struggling states.

     5.7 The criticized OSM management

     Critics of the Surface Mining Law point to the Office of Surface Mining as a

     possible point of failure. In the 1980s budget and staff cuts limited the

     effectiveness of OSM. From 1978 to 1985, OSM had six different administrators;

     consequently there was no consistency in executive leadership [6]. OSM also

     struggled to enforce and collect upon citation penalties. In numerous cases OSM

     failed to intervene with states that were struggling to enforce the Surface Mining

     Law [6].

6.0 Conclusions

     6.1 How effective has the Act been?

     Undoubtedly, without the Surface Mining Law the environment would suffer as it

     did up through World War II when reclaiming mined sites was not required [8].

     The measurable success of the SMCRA varies from state to state. States such as

     Wyoming and Montana have taken the initiative to create rigorous permit

applications, enforce the law, write citations, and collect upon monetary penalties

[5]. Kentucky appears as the polar opposite by having overly relaxed permit

applications, few citations, and disorganized collections of penalties [5]. The

success of the Surface Mining Law depends both on an individual state’s

enthusiasm for enforcing the law, and the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to

supervise each state’s operations.

6.2 How does the SMCRA shape the future?

The SMCRA and OSM have seen multiple decades of improvements and with time

will only be more effective. Additionally, people all around the world concern

themselves with the health of the environment. There will always be regions that

strongly depend upon mining to maintain sustenance; however, legislation such as

the SMCRA will still have influence over mining practices. In the future the

world’s citizens can expect stricter enforcement of laws that protect that protect the


6.3 How does the Act affect businesses?

The Surface Mining Law stands as one of thousands of environmental laws of

which many businesses should be knowledgeable. Environmentalists have formed

powerful subcultures, mainly consisting of the educated upper-class. The

environmentalists and pro-green campaigners will significantly dictate future

business trends by only endorsing environmentally friendly organizations. Beyond

knowing what may be permissible or prohibited a conscientious business will shape

its practices to support environmental beneficial trends [10].


[1] Bartman, Marci. “Surface mining.” Environmental Encyclopedia. Third Edition.

   Volume 2. Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2003.

[2] Bartman, Marci. “Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (1977).”

    Environmental Encyclopedia. Third Edition. Volume 2. Detroit: Thompson Gale,


[3] Bartman, Marci. “Reclamation.” Environmental Encyclopedia. Third Edition.

   Volume 2. Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2003.

[4] Bartman, Marci. “Office of Surface Mining.” Environmental Encyclopedia. Third

    Edition. Volume 2. Detroit: Thompson Gale, 2003.

[5] Desai, Uday. "Assessing the Impacts of the Surface Mining Control and

    Reclamation Act." Policy Studies Review; Autumn89, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p98-108, 11p

    (peer reviewed)

[6] David, Charles E., Davis, Sandra K., Peacock, Denise. "State Implementation of the

    Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977." Policy Studies Review;

    Autumn89, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p109-119, 11p (peer reviewed)

[7] Day, A.D., Tucker, T.C., Thames, J.L. Reclamation and Water Relations of Strip

    Mine Spoils In Northern Arizona (1976-1978). December 1979. (peer reviewed)

[8] “25th Anniversary of the Surface Mining Law.” Office of Surface Mining. August

    2002. Available

[9] “Surface Mining Control and Regulation Act of 1977”. Wikipedia. Last updated: 15

    January 2007. Obtained: 3 October 2007.


[10] “Environmentalism”. Wikipedia. Last updated: 1 October 2007. Obtained: October



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