Before a company can begin mining, they must go through the long and rigorous process of obtaining a mining permit. The application process begins by collecting baseline data to adequately characterize the pre-mine environmental condition of the permit area. This work includes surveys of cultural and historical resources, soils, vegetation, wildlife, assessments of surface and groundwater hydrology, climatology, and wetlands. In conducting this work, the company collects geologic data to define and model the soil and rock structures and coal that will be mined.
Mining and reclamation plans are based on this geologic data and incorporate elements of the environmental data. The mining and reclamation plan is based on the provisions of Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), state programs, and the complementary environmental programs that affect coal mining. The permit application must also include documents defining ownership and agreements pertaining to coal, minerals, oil and gas, water rights, rights of way and surface land.
Time for public notice and comments
Mining permits can take over a year to prepare, depending on the size and complexity of the mine. Once a permit application is prepared and submitted to the regulatory agency, it goes through a completeness review and a technical review. Proposed permits also undergo a public notice and comment period. Some mine permits may take several years or even longer to be issued. Regulatory authorities have considerable discretion in the timing of the permit issuance and the public and other agencies have rights to comment on and otherwise engage in the permitting process, including through intervention in the courts.
Paying for pre-law cleanup
Before a mine permit is issued, a mine operator must submit a bond or otherwise secure the performance of reclamation obligations. The Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program, which is part of SMCRA, requires a fee on all coal produced. The proceeds are used to reclaim mine lands closed prior to 1977 when SMCRA came into effect. The current fee is $0.315 per ton on surface-mined coal and $0.135 on deep-mined coal from 2008 to 2012, with reductions to $0.28 per ton on surface-mined coal and $0.12 per ton on deep-mined coal from 2013 to 2021.