SMCRA

Additional information about SMCRA

On SMCRA's 30th anniversary  (August 2007), the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Western Organization of Resource Councils released Undermined Promise: Reclamation and Enforcement of the Surface Mining Control and Reclmation Act. It documented serious problems with land and water reclamation and inspection and enforcement of the law as well as with data collection and reporting.

A similar report issued written with employees of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining and released on SMCRA's 20th anniversary had reached similar conclusions. The ones charged with implementing the law cited numerous political obstacles – from both Democratic and Republic administrations – that kept them from doing their jobs and protecting the public Empty Promises: Twenty Years of Failure in Federal Strip Mine Regulation is available here.

 

Additional resources

Download a copy of the law (197 pages)

Read some excerpts from the law (11 pages)

A quick review of the 1977 federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

President Jimmy Carter"I'm not completely satisfied with the legislation. I would prefer to have a stricter strip mining bill. I'm concerned with some of the features that had to be watered down during this session to get it passed, but I think that this provides us a basis on which we can make improvements on the bill in years to come."

President Jimmy Carter
speaking as he signed SMCRA,
August 3, 1977


What SMCRA Promises
•    To protect society & the environment.
•    To assure the rights of landowners.
•    To prohibit surface mining where reclamation is not possible.
•    To assure public participation.

Key provisions of SMCRA
•    Sets up the U.S Office of Surface Mining.
•    Gives enforcement power to states.
•    Establishes Abandoned Mine Lands Fund.
•    Requires companies to get mining permits and reclamation bonds.

More Provisions of SMCRA
•    Establishes performance standards for reducing environmental and water damage.
•    Requires one complete inspection per quarter WITHOUT advance notice.
•    Sets up a procedure for declaring lands “unsuitable for mining.”
•    Allows for citizen intervention in permit and enforcement decisions.

Permit Requirements according to SMCRA
•    Publish notice in local papers.
•    File a map showing land to be affected.
•    Show effects of mining on quantity and quality of surface and ground water.
•    Offer residents a pre-blast survey.
•    Submit a blasting plan, reclamation plan and proof of reclamation bond.

SMCRA’s Reclamation Promises
•    Requires that reclamation plans restore the land to its prior condition, or to a condition that supports “higher and better uses.”
•    Even those “higher and better uses” are only (supposed to be) allowed if they don’t pose a threat to water quality or quantity.

Approximate Original Contour Rules
•    Except in a few cases, SMCRA says that reclamation plans must replace the slope to its “approximate original contour.”
•    Companies may request a waiver from this rule if they submit “post-mining land use plans” showing that the land will be used for specific, approved purposes.

Blasting Requirements
•    The law says companies must “Limit the type of explosives…size, timing and frequency of blasts…to prevent injury to persons, damage to public and private property…and availability of water.”
•    Blasting regulations, however, are totally inadequate to do the job.

Citizen Participation in SMCRA
•    Any person who has “an interest or may be adversely affected” may object to a mine permit application, revision or bond release.
•    Citizen objections follow a 3-step process: informal hearing, formal hearing, lawsuit.
•    Citizens may also intervene in “pattern of violations” proceedings and “lands unsuitable” declarations.

Citizen Complaints & Inspection
•    SMCRA allows citizens to request and receive a mine inspection.
•    Inspections must be completed by the state within 15 days of the request.
•    If not satisfied with the outcome, citizens may request an inspection by the OSM and/or a review by the head of the state agency.
•    The OSM must give states “10 days notice.”

Abandoned Mine Lands
•    Coal companies pay $.35 per ton for surface coal ($.15 for underground coal) into the AML fund to address pre-1977 problems.
•    AML money is given back to the states each year for reclamation and water projects.
•    More than $1 billion of unspent AML money sits in Washington D.C.

Clean Water Act
•    In addition to SMCRA, coal companies must also comply with the Clean Water Act.
•    The CWA says the Corps of Engineers may give permits to fill in waterways IF environmental impacts are minimal and IF the fill is for a specific, useful purpose.
•    The Corps violates the CWA by giving permits to bury streams under “valley fills.”

Conclusions
•    The law isn’t perfect, but it has many strong provisions that should be enforced and obeyed.
•    Two of the most important parts of SMCRA are the role for citizen participation and the oversight role of the OSM.