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A Review of Litigation Concerning SMCRA

Charles F. Cook, Edward M. Green, Western Land Use Regulation and Mined Land Reclamation (1979)

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 19771, enacted on August 3, 1977, has generated a significant amount of judicial and administrative litigation in its relatively short life span.

Certainly one of the most controversial pieces of environmental legislation to be considered by the Congress in recent years, the Surface Mining Act has an exceptionally long legislative history, including two presidential vetoes in two different Congresses. The controversy swirling around the legislation for so lengthy a period of time may well be viewed as a factor contributing to the administrative and judicial litigation in which the industry currently finds itself embroiled.2 Not only is the statutory language of many key provisions inartfully drafted, but also, in many crucial instances, the legislative history fails to decisively clarify the ambiguities of the statutory language.

Several other points are important to keep in mind in any analysis of litigation under the Surface Mining Act. First, section 501 of the Act3 mandates a two-tier regulatory scheme. By November 3, 1977, the Secretary of Interior was required to promulgate regulations covering an “interim regulatory procedure for surface coal mining and reclamation operations”. These regulations were to establish “mining and reclamation performance standards” based on what the Congress deemed to be cri