Coal holds a strong place in American history and because of this coal mining practices date back to a time in America where environmental policies were nonexistent. As the nation and the coal industry have grown, knowledge has been gained and environmental impacts have become a higher and higher priority, not only with the coal industry but with all human activity.
Coal industry practices have gone through an evolution and have become much more environmentally responsible, and mining companies have modified and improved their practices to reflect this. The most formal and lasting development of environmental regulations for the coal industry have occurred under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). All mining that occurred prior to the implementation of SMCRA is referred to as pre-law mining.
SMCRA requirements also apply to pre-law mining sites:
“…to provide adequate drainage and to cover all acid-forming and other toxic materials, in order to achieve an ecologically sound land use compatible with the surrounding region….
Often, current mining is conducted at previously mined, unreclaimed pre-law mine sites. In those cases, the postmining reclamation under modern requirements effectively remediates problems from the past. In re-mining, mine design and production often eliminates thousands of feet of pre-law highwalls. Before any mine permit is issued, the operator must submit a bond or otherwise secure the performance of reclamation obligations.
Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program
AML, which is part of SMCRA, levies a fee on all coal produced and is paid by the mining company. The proceeds from the fees are used to reclaim mine lands closed prior to 1977 when SMCRA came into effect.