Surface Coal Mining Operations in Two Oklahoma Counties Raise Questions About Prime Farmland Reclamation and Bond Adequacy

Gao ID: RCED-85-147 August 8, 1985

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the bonding system for reclamation of strip-mined land in Oklahoma and other selected states; (2) the issuance of permits by states to operators who have violated strip mining laws; (3) whether mined farmland was being reclaimed; and (4) whether the amount of performance bonds is sufficient to cover reclamation costs should the operator fail to reclaim the land.

GAO found that: (1) the land under 54 of the 58 mine permits contained some prime soil, but none of it was permitted as prime farmland because, on the basis of landowner statements, farming had not occurred for 5 of the 10 years after the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA); (2) out of the 58 mine permits issued, 3 crop history records showed that the land had been cropped in 5 of the 10 preceding years and was, therefore, prime farmland; and (3) state officials did not attempt to verify local crop history records because it was too time-consuming. GAO also found that: (1) 19 abandoned sites had been involved in bond forfeiture proceedings since the enactment of SMCRA; however, no reclamation occurred on 12 of the 19 abandoned sites; (2) the Oklahoma Department of Mines (ODOM) increased bond amounts on newly issued permits and on some older permitted areas in order to prevent future reclamation problems; and (3) the ODOM policy of not approving bond releases in order to ensure future bond adequacy delayed bond releases and created financial hardships for mine operators.

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