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Laws & Policies


SMCRA - Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977
                  and the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund

For more depth on the reauthorization of SMCRA Title IV
please visit the AML Campaign's website.


For a comprehensive overview see the PA Organization of Watersheds and River's (POWR) Fact Pack "The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, Partnerships and Future Challenges" for an overview of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

PA's resolution of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation FundShow your support!

The Abandoned Mine Land Story

NOTE: This information was extracted from the
National Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation web site


From the time that coal was first mined in the United States (beginning in the 1800's) until 1977 there were no federal laws regulating mining operations. When the coal had been mined from site it was abandoned and the mining operation moved to a new location. As a result, in 1977 there were an estimated 1.1 million acres of abandoned coal mine sites in the United States.

Problems Caused by Abandoned Mine Sites

WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS - Acid run-off and sedimentation from abandoned mine sites contaminate thousand of miles of streams nationwide. This contaminated water eventually serves as the municipal water supply for many citizens in both rural and urban areas. Therefore, an increase in water treatment costs is extended far beyond the mined land boundaries. Acid mine drainage also leads to increased road maintenance costs, due to the corrosive effects of this drainage on culverts. Streams and drainage systems are often clogged by sedimentation from abandoned mine sites.

HEALTH & SAFETY PROBLEMS - Abandoned mine sites have contributed to deaths in several states (in one Oklahoma county alone 11 deaths have been associated with abandoned mine site hazards). Children seem to be drawn to these sites, because they see them not as dangerous areas but as interesting places to explore. Highwalls, open shafts, dilapidated mine structures, and water-filled pits present serious health and safety threats. These sites are sometimes within easy walking distance from schools and subdivisions and become deadly play areas.

ECONOMIC PROBLEMS -These lands are often located in the most economically depressed areas of our nation. These cities and towns thrived during the mining heydays but were often abandoned when mining activity slowed or halted. All that remains in many once populated mining communities are scared lands and a few residents who are willing to commute to larger cities for employment. These areas are in desperate need of new industries to replace the jobs that the coal mining industry once provided. But, the mine sites make it nearly impossible for these communities to compete for industry and tourism.

ESTHETIC PROBLEMS - Abandoned mine sites - with sparse vegetation (if any), stagnant water and often used as illegal trash dumps - have a negative effect on on both "outsiders" and local residents. The appearance of the site and its proximity to public lands depress land value and detract from the tax base. The environmental scars contribute to a lose of community pride and people become apathetic toward the condition of these areas.

Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977

In 1977 the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was passed by the United States Congress to regulate the mining industry and to address the problem of abandoned mine sites (those sites mined before 1977). SMCRA was amended in 1990 and again in 1992.  This law is administered through the Office of Surface Mining (OSM)

SMCRA put an end to the practice of abandoning coal mine sites. Coal companies now reclaim lands after they mine them. SMCRA also requires that all active mining operations pay a tax on each ton of coal they produce; at a rate of 35 cents per ton for surface mined coal and 15 cents per ton of deep mined coal.

The funds collected from this coal production tax goes into the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund  and according to SMCRA as amended are to be used to finance the reclamation of abandoned coal mine sites. The following is a simple breakdown of how the funds are supposed to be allocated.

  1. 50% reserved for use by the state where collected
  2. 50% placed in the Federal Share
  3. Interest earned to be used on other items
  4. 20% of item 2 to be allocated for RAMP (Rural Abandoned Mine Program)  .... now inactive

(RAMP - the Rural Abandoned Mine Program is one of the programs authorized by SMCRA to reclaim abandoned coal mine lands.)

Funding Problems

The funds collected to finance the reclamation of abandoned mine sites must go though the federal budgetary process each year and the funding provided has been consistently inadequate. No RAMP funds were provided in the FY 1996 or the FY 1997 budgets, yet there was approximately $155 million in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Trust Fund that could have been appropriated for RAMP at the end of 1996.

Due to inadequate funding it is estimated that only 40% of our nations abandoned mine sites have been reclaimed to date. If this trend continues our nation will we left with thousands of acres of abandoned coal mine lands when SMCRA expires, even though funds have been collected (and are still being collected) to repair these lands.

How You Can Help

For Additional Information, check out the following links:

See the PA Organization of Watersheds and River's Fact Pack "The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, Partnerships and Future Challenges" for an overview of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.

Office of Surface Mining:

A non-profit educational organization providing information on legal issues related to the energy and mineral industry through workshops, specialty programs, publications and electronic information.

There ought to be a law, an essay by Eric Whitney, is a look at SMCRA 20 years after its passage.

PA DEP's Citizen Advisory Council Issue Paper: Reclamation Issues and the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Trust Fund addresses the current state of affairs with respect to SMCRA.

National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs was organized around SMCRA.  Check here for related information.

North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)
Summary of Environmental Law in the United States (Mining)

Testimony of Robert Hughes of EPCAMR to the U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee, Jan 24, 2000, on AML/AMD issues and SMCRA.

Draft of Full Cost Bonding For Land Reclamation on Pennsylvania's Coal Mine Sites report