What Is the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act?

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act is a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1977 to regulate the environmental effects coal mining has in the United States. The law created a program to regulate active coal mines and another to rehabilitate abandoned mines.

Before 1977, around 1.1 million coal mines had been abandoned around the country. The SMCRA mandated that the owners of coal mines must contribute to bonds for the reclamation of lands used for mining and to repair environmental damage caused by their mining activities. This money was placed into the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, which helped to finance the restoration of abandoned mines.

The act also created the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. This office controls the operations of surface mining and reviews state mining programs. It also conducts enforcement operations when necessary.

Surface coal mining did not become widespread until the 1930s, and states began passing laws to regulate the coal industry in that decade. The huge need for coal during World War II, however, led to coal mining with little regard for the environmental impact. After the war, coal mining continued to damage the environment despite state laws designed to curb the damage. This prompted Congress to pass the SMCRA, and President Carter signed it into law on August 3, 1977.