Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act

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The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977
The widespread degradation of land and water resources caused by strip mining for coal — and the failure of the states to effectively regulate the industry themselves — resulted in the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 or SMCRA. The overriding purpose of SMCRA was to make mine operators conduct their operations in a way that would avoid environmental and public health injury, and to restore the land after mining to its pre-mining condition.

SMCRA estab­lishes minimum federal standards for the regulation of coal mining.  Using these standards as a guide, each state where there is (or may be) surface coal mining may propose a state regulatory program to control mining. SMCRA requires the Secretary of the Interior to approve any state program that meets or exceeds the federal standards.  Alabama’s state regulatory program was approved on May 20, 1982.

SMCRA requires that each state program contain certain perform­ance standards with which all operators must comply. These perform­ance standards set levels of environmental damage that are deemed unacceptable and in some cases, they actually tell the operator how a mining operation must be conducted to protect the environment. SMCRA also requires each state to adopt certain provisions to govern permitting and bonding, inspection and enforcement, and to establish procedures for designating certain lands unsuitable for mining.

SMCRA grants affected citizens the broadest rights to participate in administrative and judicial proceedings ever granted in a federal environmental statute. For each decision to grant a permit, SMCRA allows the citizen an informal conference, a right to go onto the mine site, a formal hearing on the merits of the decision, and judicial review of the hearing officer’s decision.  A citizen also has the right to call for and participate in inspections of mine property, to use informal or formal agency proceedings to challenge an agency’s failure to take proper enforcement action, and to appeal any adverse decision to the courts. In addition, citizens can challenge in court any regulation promulgated under SMCRA and petition to designate an area unsuitable for coal mining.  SMCRA also allows citizens to recover damages caused by violations of the Act.

Source: The Strip Mining Handbook

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