U.S. Department of the Interior

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Chronology of Major SMCRA-Related Events

This unofficial chronology lists major events related to implementation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA).

August 3, 1977

President Carter signs SMCRA into law. The Act establishes the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement within the Department of the Interior to carry out the provisions of the law.

SMCRA was the first federal environmental statute to regulate a specific industry as opposed to a specific type of pollution. It created two major programs:

  • An abandoned mine land (AML) reclamation program, funded by fees that operators pay on each ton of coal produced, to reclaim land and water resources adversely affected by coal mines abandoned before August 3, 1977.
  • A regulatory program to ensure that surface coal mining operations initiated or in existence after the effective date of the Act are conducted and reclaimed in an environmentally sound manner.

Congress first held hearings on surface coal mining regulation in 1968.

Two bills passed in 1974 and 1975 were vetoed.

December 13, 1977

Initial regulatory program regulations published along with regulations governing assessment and collection of reclamation fees.

October 25, 1978

OSMRE publishes final rules for administration of the abandoned mine land reclamation program.

March 31, 1979

OSMRE publishes final rules for the permanent regulatory program.

February 27, 1980 through December 23, 1983

OSMRE approves 25 state regulatory programs (including all states with active coal mining except Washington) and 22 state abandoned mine land reclamation plans.

December 16, 1980

OSMRE makes first designation of lands unsuitable for coal mining, in Alton, Utah, an area adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park.

May 21, 1981

OSMRE reorganizes and downsizes to reflect the change in its role from direct regulation of mining operations to oversight of state regulation of mining operations. The number of field locations was reduced from 42 to 22.


At the direction of Secretary James Watt, OSMRE rewrites 91% of its permanent regulatory program rules to reduce burdens on operators and to replace design criteria with performance standards wherever possible.

April 30, 1984

OSMRE institutes direct federal enforcement of the state regulatory programs in Oklahoma and Tennessee because those states failed to remedy deficiencies in implementation of their programs.

Oklahoma eventually corrected its deficiencies and OSMRE returned full authority to the state on October 2, 1987.

Tennessee declined to remedy its deficiencies, which resulted in imposition of a full federal regulatory program on October 1, 1984.

November 5, 1985

OSMRE establishes a 2-acre task force to enforce regulations on sites in Virginia and Kentucky that were abusing the 2-acre exemption provided in SMCRA.

June 6, 1987

Public Law 100-34 repeals the 2-acre exemption.

June 22, 1987

First annual Excellence in Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Awards presented to mine operators.

July 11, 1987

Public Law 100-71 authorizes the Navajo, Hopi, and Crow Tribes to administer abandoned mine land reclamation programs on Indian lands without first having approved regulatory programs.

The tribes subsequently obtain approval of their AML reclamation plans between May 1988 and January 1989.

October 1987

The Applicant/Violator System (AVS) becomes operational. The AVS is an automated database and information system into which OSMRE and the state regulatory authorities enter information on applicants, permittees, operators, application and permit records, as well as unabated or uncorrected violations. The primary purpose of the AVS is to assist OSMRE and the states in making permit eligibility determinations under section 510(c) of SMCRA.

November 1987

First prototype Technical Information Processing workstations installed in Montana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

The TIPS (Technical Innovation and Professional Services) program has since become one of the most effective tools available to all states to analyze and make informed decisions on permit applications.

October 1, 1991

The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 1990 becomes law. This act amends SMCRA to, among other things, extend the collection of reclamation fees 3 years (through September 30, 1995); provide that interest will accrue on the AML Fund's unappropriated balance; increase the ceiling on eligibility for the small operator assistance program from 100,000 to 300,000 tons of coal mined per year; allow use of AML funds to reclaim initial regulatory program sites; and allow states to establish a trust fund for an acid mine drainage abatement and treatment program.

October 24, 1992

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 becomes law. Among other things, this act requires that underground mine operators replace drinking, domestic, and residential water supplies damaged by underground mining after this date and correct subsidence damage to occupied residential and noncommercial structures caused by underground mining operations conducted after this date.

July 10, 1996

OSMRE website established.

September 24, 1996

The Fish and Wildlife Service issues a programmatic biological opinion and conference report under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The opinion covers the permitting and conduct of coal mining operations under SMCRA regulatory programs. It allows the issuance of permits for those operations without first conducting site-specific consultation under section 7 of the ESA, provided that there is coordination between the SMCRA regulatory authority and the Fish and Wildlife Service during the permit application review and approval process. The opinion establishes a dispute resolution process and includes an incidental take statement.

March 31, 1997

OSMRE issues acid mine drainage policy statement, which prohibits issuance of permits likely to result in postmining discharges requiring long-term treatment and requires that the permittee provide adequate financial assurance for treatment of any discharges that nevertheless develop.

February 12, 1999/December 10, 2003

OSMRE publishes the AML enhancement rule, which allows coal removal from AML sites in connection with reclamation of the site. No SMCRA mining permit is needed.

June 22, 2000

OSMRE issues a policy statement concerning allowable postmining land uses for mountaintop removal mining operations and steep-slope mining operations with variances from approximate original contour restoration requirements.

December 20, 2006

The SMCRA Amendments Act of 2006 substantially overhauls the AML reclamation program by, among other things, extending reclamation fee collection through September 30, 2021, at incrementally reduced rates, requiring Treasury payments to certified states and tribes in lieu of payments from the AML Fund, providing a permanent appropriation for disbursements from the AML Fund, and requiring allocation of disbursements from the AML Fund on the basis of historic coal production. The law greatly increased the funds available for reclamation of AML problems and the flexibility that states and tribes have in using those funds.

The law also amended SMCRA to allow Indian tribes to achieve primacy for the regulation of all or part of surface coal mining operations conducted on reservation lands.

November 14, 2008

OSMRE publishes final regulations implementing the SMCRA Amendments Act of 2006.

November 18, 2009

OSMRE announces an oversight improvement initiative that results in expanded opportunities for public involvement in the oversight process, increased oversight inspections, conduct of independent OSMRE inspections, and clarification of OSMRE’s role in overseeing state permitting actions.

July 6, 2012

Public Law 112-141 caps annual payments of in-lieu funds from the Treasury to a certified State or Indian tribe under the SMCRA Amendments Act of 2006 at $15 million per state or tribe. This provision dramatically reduced Treasury in-lieu payments to Wyoming.

October 2, 2013

Public Law 113-40 raises the Public Law 112-141 limit on annual payments of in-lieu funds from the Treasury to a certified State or Indian tribe under the SMCRA Amendments Act of 2006 to $28 million for Fiscal Year 2014 and $75 million for Fiscal Year 2015.

December 20, 2016

OSMRE publishes a comprehensive stream protection rule in the Federal Register. See 81 FR 93066-93445.

February 16, 2017

Public Law 115-5 nullifies the stream protection rule published on December 20, 2016, and restores the regulations that existed prior to the effective date of the stream protection rule, which was January 19, 2017.

Page Last Modified/Reviewed: 4/27/17

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