Office of Surface Mining

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Office of Surface Mining

In 1977 the Office of Surface Mining(OSM) was created to police coal extraction within the United States and to enforce the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMRCA). Under the auspices of OSM, citizens are empowered to enforce reclamation of surface mines, as well as deep mines, that have damaged surface features.

The government, industry, or a combination of both is required to pay all expenses, including legal fees, when citizens bring successful administrative or judicial complaints for noncompliance under the SMRCA. The reclamation of abandoned mines is funded by a tax on coal. To fund the reclamation of new mines OSC requires performance bonds that must cover the cost of reclamation should the operator not complete the process.

The majority of mining states have been granted "primacy" by OSM, which means that the individual states are authorized to handle reclamation enforcement, with OSM stepping in only when states fail to enforce the SMRCA. There are almost 30,000 known violations that remain uncorrected, yet OSM issues less than 25 citations a year. The majority of citations issued are disposed of by vacating the citation or by making arrangements with the company.

There are 24,000 operations including surface mines, deep mines, refuse piles and prep plants that come under the act, (including those that went into operation after 1977); about 17,000 of these have been reclaimed. Many of these reclaimed sites are merely grass planted over desert , incapable of supporting any form of wildlife . The reclamation plans developed for many surface mining sites designate the post mining land use to be pastureland, but due to the remoteness and inaccessibility, many reclaimed sites sit idle devoid of all wildlife.

Environmentalists and other opponents of the mining industry charge that coal industries and OSM personnel are the same group. It is interesting to note that Harry Snyder, the current director of OSM, was a former lobbyist for CSX railroad and is a heavy investor in coal. According to many critics the coal industry has become adept at manipulating the OSM and SMCRA for its own purposes. The OSM is currently trying to push through legislation that would eliminate the SMRCA's attorney fee provisions. The agency is also in the process of throwing out numerous other SMCRA regulations that are burdensome to the coal industry, including one that bans deep mining from national parks and wildlife refuges.

[Debra Glidden ]



Brown, F. "The Miner's Watchdog Doesn't Bite." Sierra 34 (September/October 1986): 2831.

"Coal Mining: Profit Reclamation." The Economist 319 (April 1991): A2426.

Sherwood, T. "Strip Search". Common Cause Magazine 15 (May/June 1989): 810.


Office of Surface Mining, 1951 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. USA 20240 (202) 208-2719, Email: [email protected], <>.