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SMCRA Chronology

Major SMCRA-Related Milestones

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 reclamation program, funded by fees that operators pay on each ton of coal mined, 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 change in role from direct regulation to oversight of state regulation; number of field locations 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 of state failures to remedy deficiencies.

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

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

November 5, 1985

OSMRE establishes 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 information system owned and operated by OSMRE. OSMRE and the state regulatory authorities enter information on applicants, permittees, operators, application and permit records, as well as unabated or uncorrected environmental violations of SMCRA, into this nationwide database. The primary purpose of AVS is to assist OSMRE and the states in making a permit eligibility determination required under section 510(c) of SMCRA for applicants for coal mining permits.

November 1987

First prototype Technical Information Processing workstations installed in states of 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 extends the collection of reclamation fees 3 years until September 30, 1995.

Among other things, the law also provides that interest will accrue on the AML Fund's unappropriated balance; increases the ceiling on the small operator assistance program from 100,000 to 300,000 tons of coal mined per year; allows use of AML funds to reclaim initial program sites; and allows states to establish a trust fund for an acid mine drainage program.

October 24, 1992

The Energy Policy Act of 1992 requires that underground mine operators replace certain water supplies damaged by underground mining after this date and correct subsidence damage to residential structures caused by underground mining operations conducted after this date.

July 10, 1996

OSMRE website established.

September 24, 1996

Fish and Wildlife Service issues a programmatic biological opinion 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.

February 12, 1999/December 10, 2003

OSMRE publishes 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 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 for 14 years 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 with respect to the AML reclamation program.

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 enacted with the following change to section 411(h)of SMCRA: "(5) Limitation on annual payments. Notwithstanding any other provision of this subsection, the total annual payment to a certified State or Indian tribe under this subsection shall be not more than $15,000,000." This provision dramatically reduced Treasury in-lieu payments to Wyoming.

Page Last Modified/Reviewed: 2/28/14

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