Recently Released Report
Enforcement of Approximate Original Contour in Oklahoma by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
OIG has completed an inspection to determine whether the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) is ensuring that the Oklahoma Department of Mines (ODM)—the State agency responsible for ensuring the reclamation of land disturbed by mining operations—is properly enforcing Federal regulations requiring coal-mining operators to return mined lands to their preexisting topography, or approximate original contour (AOC).
Accompanied by OSM inspectors, we visited 8 of the approximately 60 "inspectable" mining units in Oklahoma. We observed mines in various states of reclamation, restoration, and abandonment and found that AOC enforcement in Oklahoma is not working as intended. OIG found that coal-mining companies were not restoring lands after mining as required by Federal law, leaving large—and sometimes dangerous—holes that prevented landowners from using the land for livestock grazing or other purposes. Some of the mines appeared to have been abandoned, and others were not meeting reclamation standards.
OSM's efforts at local and national levels to address AOC problems—including new directives to clarify its oversight role and policy—have been met with strong resistance from the mining industry, ODM, and certain members of Congress. On the other hand, affected Oklahoma residents have complained bitterly and vocally about mining companies' noncompliance with AOC, which can affect the residents' livelihoods and personal safety.
We make three recommendations to address serious compliance and enforcement problems in Oklahoma, which are adversely affecting the implementation of Federal AOC requirements.
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