Environmental Laws and Regulations Governing Underground Mining Operations

Parr, Clayton J.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 27
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1982
Introduction This chapter contains brief discussions of various environmental protection requirements that relate to underground mining operations. Environmental disturbances at an underground mining operation can result from subsidence; water discharges; waste dumps; construction and operation of access roads and utility lines; construction and operation of surface facilities such as maintenance shops, bathhouses, and storage yards; and emanation of dust and noise from surface crushers. Construction and operation of a concentrator or washing plant may result in the emission of air pollutants, the discharge of water pollutants, the creation of noise, and disturbance of the surface. Tailings ponds can be the source of fugitive dust.1 This chapter is not intended to provide a detailed discussion and analysis of laws and regulations dealing with environmental protection. Rather, its purpose is to provide the engineer with a basic awareness of the existence and nature of such laws and regulations, as well as the procedural requirements that must be followed in complying with them. The body of law relating to environmental protection has grow" very rapidly and should continue to do to for some time. Because many of the laws have been enacted recently, numerous court decisions are being rendered to resolve disputes over their interpretation. Hence, the reader is cautioned to be alert for subsequent modifications of statutes and regulations, and new case law. Rules and regulations pertaining to environmental protection are implemented at all governmental levels. The most widely known laws are those enacted by the federal government that have nationwide applicability. However, separate requirements exist in each state, county, and municipality. Because of their general applicability, federal laws are discussed most extensively in this chapter. Ownership of the property is the most significant factor considered in ascertaining what rules govern the conduct of an operation thereon. If the land is held under lease, reference to the lease terms must be made in the first instance to determine what obligations must be met in order to prevent default and possible loss of the property. If the land is held under a lease from the federal government, the operator is subject not only to compliance with the lease terms, but also to a large body of laws and administrative regulations that pertain generally to the conduct of mining operations on land held under federal leases. Although operations on unpatented mining claims, the legal title to which remains in the federal government, are not subject to the same rules and regulations that are applicable to operations conducted pursuant to federal leases or permits, they soon will be governed by a special set of regulations that provide for protection of surface resource.2 Operations conducted on lands leased from a state usually are subject to numerous environmental protection requirements specified in the lease terms, in addition to rules and regulations promulgated by the state agency having jurisdiction over mining on state lands. Operations conducted on privately held lands are subject to fewer such requirements. Leases from private parties sometimes have environmental protection and reclamation requirements written into them, but generally to a far lesser extent than governmental leases. Operations conducted on properties owned by the operator are subject only to those laws and regulations that have general applicability without regard to land ownership. COAL SURFACE MINING CONTROL AND RECLAMATION ACT OF 1977 Introduction On Aug. 3, 1977, the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 was signed into law.3 It governs coal-mine operations on private lands, as well as on public lands. The Act is pervasive in its scope and is extremely long and complex. The basic purpose of the Act is to control and minimize the environmental effects of surface coal mining. Surface coal-mining operations are defined as activities conducted on the surface of lands in connection with a surface coal mine and surface impacts incident to an underground coal mine.4 The Act is administered by the Secretary of the Interior through a new agency named the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.5 The Act contains detailed environmental protection standards and reclamation requirements, and it establishes a permit system for all surface coal-mining operations. Mining in certain areas and under ceri-in conditions is restricted or prohibited, and a mechanism for enforcement by the states is provided. Stiff penalties are provided in the event of noncompliance. Implementation Schedule Nonfederal Lands: As required by Section 501 of the Act, interim regulations setting mining and reclamation performance standards based on and incorporating standards set out in Section 502(c) were adopted effective Dec. 13, 1977.6 They will. be incorporated as amendments to Chapter VII of Title 30, Code of Federal Regulations. Permanent regulatory procedures for surface coal-mining and reclamation operations performance standards, which were directed to be promulgated by Aug. 3, 1978, were published in proposed form on Sept. 10, 1978. 7 They govern surface coal-mining operations in any state until a permanent state or federal program is adopted. As of Feb. 3, 1978, all new operations, and as of May 3, 1978, all existing surface coal-mining operations, on lands on which such operations are regulated by a
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