|The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was passed by Congress in 1977 to protect the environment from the detrimental effects of surface mining of coal and provide for the restoration of surface mining areas ("reclamation") to beneficial use once the coal is exhausted. The SMCRA also provides for the reclamation of coal mines abandoned before the enactment of the SMCRA. The SMCRA is administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, commonly referred to in the shorthand as the Office of Surface Mining (OSM).
The SMCRA allows states in which surface mining operations are conducted to assume exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of surface mining and reclamation by submitting an implementation plan to the Secretary of the Interior. Presently, 24 states have established approved programs for the regulation of surface coal mining and reclamation. The OSM matches state expenditures for reclamation efforts dollar for dollar and pays for all of the cost of restoring mines that were abandoned before the SMCRA was passed. For states in which surface mining operations are conducted that do not have approved programs, as well as federal lands and Indian reservations, the OSM carries out SMCRA requirements.
The SMCRA requires that permits be obtained in order to conduct surface coal mining operations. A permit application is required to describe the details of the mining operation, including its effects on any surrounding watershed. The application must indicate the anticipated term for which the mining operation is to be conducted and the number of acres affected and must contain a reclamation plan.
Reclamation plans are required to describe the condition of the land prior to the mining operation, including previous uses of the land other than mining; the land's ability to support other types of activities in light of the character of the soil and vegetative cover; and the productivity of the land prior to the mining operation with respect to food, fiber, forage, and wood products. Post-reclamation uses for the land must also be proposed. Reclamation plans must describe the engineering techniques that will be used in mining and reclamation, include a plan for the control of surface water accumulation and drainage, set out any necessary plans for back filling and soil stabilization, and contain detailed descriptions of the measures that will be taken to ensure compliance with air and water quality statutes.
To be issued a permit, a mining operator is required to meet several environmental protection performance standards. Mining operations are to maximize the utilization and conservation of the coal being mined to eliminate the need for future mining operations in the same area. The mined land must be restored to a condition capable of supporting uses at least as beneficial as it was capable of supporting before the mining operations. The approximate original contour of the land must be restored to the extent possible. The SMCRA provides detailed instructions for preserving and restoring soil in areas identified as prime farm land.
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