Abandoned Mine Land Program
Coal mining has been underway in Oklahoma since 1872. In a 16-county area of eastern Oklahoma, over 32,000 acres were surfaced mined and another 40,000 acres were underground mined, then left unreclaimed. Early production in Oklahoma was almost entirely from underground mines, but with the development of large power equipment, surface mining became increasingly important. Surface mining accounted for 50 percent of annual production in 1943 and 99 percent or more by 1967. Today surface mining continues to be the primary mining method used in the state.
||(Schematic cross sections showing statges of surface mining for coal. Prior to 1968 most mined lands were left as shown in section C. From "Description of Disturbed and Reclaimed Surface-Mined Coal Lands in Eastern Oklahoma," (Text to Accompany Map GN-17) by Kenneth S. Johnson, Oklahoma Geological Survey. University of Oklahoma, 1974.)
For years conservation district directors in eastern Oklahoma voiced their concern to local legislators for reclamation legislation that would help restore the mined areas. But no reclamation laws were passed in Oklahoma until 1968. In 1968 the Open Cut Land Reclamation Act was passed requiring leveling only the tops of spoil ridges to a width of 10 feet. In 1971 the reclamation requirements were strengthened by requiring "a rolling topography traversable by machines or equipment commonly used with the land after reclamation." Conservation district directors, as well as other groups and citizens, believed that reclamation laws were still inadequate and therefore turned to Congress for assistance.
On August 3, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-87, known as the "Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977." This federal legislation established a nationwide system for controlling the surface effects of active coal mining. The act also established a trust fund for the purpose of reclaiming orphan coal mine land that endangers public health and/or safety. Money for the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Trust Fund is generated from a tax on active coal mining.
By law, a state is to receive at least one half of the fees collected in that state. The United States Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining (OSM) is the federal agency responsible for allocating the reclamation fees in the trust fund. The tax on active coal mining will end in 2021.
Because of their concern for the wise use and management of Oklahoma's natural resources, conservation districts had been monitoring the legislation leading to the passage of PL 95-87. Within months after PL95-87 was passed, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission was designated by Governor David Boren as the state agency responsible for reclamation of abandoned coal mine land in Oklahoma.
On May 19, 1981, Governor George Nigh signed Senate Bill 217 implementing the AML Program in Oklahoma, and the following spring Cecil Andrus, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, approved Oklahoma's AML Reclamation Plan. Oklahoma is one of the few states where conservation districts are actively involved with the reclamation efforts.