Legislation Reclamation

Because coal mining can have a significant impact on the environment and health of miners, coal producers are required to go through a complicated process to obtain local, state, and federal permits to mine. Coal mining is one of the most extensively regulated industries in the United States [16,17]. A company must comply with many laws and regulations, and meeting all the requirements is a long and difficult process [16,18]. Up to 10 years can pass between the start of planning a mine and mining the first ton of coal. A coal company must provide detailed information on how the coal will be mined and how the land will be reclaimed, on the quality and quantity of surface and underground water sources and how the mining operations will affect them, and on the method to transport the coal from the mine and how the area will be affected by the transportation. The coal company has to return the land to approximately the same physical contour and to a state of productivity equal to or better than pre-mining conditions. Wildlife habitat cannot be permanently disrupted, and archeological sites must be protected. Companies must post bonds as high as $10,000/acre to ensure that the sites will be reclaimed [16].

Unfortunately, concern for the environment was not always a high priority in the past and as a result there are many abandoned mines. A tax on mined coal is earmarked for the Federal Abandoned Mines Land Fund to finance reclamation projects of these orphaned mines. Some states had reclamation laws on their books since the 1930s; however, it was not until 1977 that Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), which mandated strict regulation of surface mining [16]. This act, along with other federal laws (specifically, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act), has had a significant impact on surface mining. In addition, many other legislative acts affect surface mining in the United States and, as noted from the names listed below, cover a host of subject areas [16]:

• American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978;

• Antiquities Act of 1906;

• Archeological and Historical Preservation Act of 1974;

• Archeological Salvage Act;

• Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1969;

• Endangered Species Act of 1963;

• Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934;

• Forest and Rangeland Resources Planning Act of 1974;

• Historic Preservation Act of 1966;

• Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918;

• Mining and Minerals Policy Act of 1970;

• Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960;

• National Forests Management Act of 1976;

• National Trails System Act;

• Noise Control Act of 1976;

• Resource Conservation and Recovery Act;

• Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974;

• Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977;

• Wild and Scenic Rivers Act;

• Wilderness Act of 1964.

Although the mining industry must be cognizant of many laws and regulations, and past mining operations were not environmentally conscientious, mine reclamation has become a success story in the United States. Mine operators are addressing the issues discussed earlier in this chapter, and as coal continues to be a major energy source for the United States the mining industry; federal, state, and local governments; and the general public will have to continue working closely together to minimize the environmental and health impacts of coal mining.

Surface mining of coal should be regarded as a temporary land use. The enactment of stringent laws requiring that the land be returned to its original condition or better has meant that restoration of the land surface and rehabilitation of the soil materials have now become normal parts of the planning, approval, and operation of most surface mines. Many examples of high-quality restored land can now be found, and the Office of Surface Mining annually recognizes companies and individuals whose efforts are exemplary. These companies and individuals are honored for not only doing the reclamation required of them but also for going beyond the requirements to achieve outstanding landscape restoration [19]. Internationally, many countries have legislation governing the restoration and rehabilitation of the land [17]. Major coal-producing countries, such as Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa, practice reclamation. Unfortunately, for economic reasons, in less-developed countries such as China, India, and Indonesia less reclamation is being practiced.

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