Back to Publications

An Analysis of the Legislative History of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1975

Louise C. Dunlap, Proceedings of 21st Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1975)

Efforts to enact Federal surface coal mining legislation date back thirty-five years to 1940, when Representative Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-Ill.) introduced a bill requiring operators to post performance bonds and to fill in the holes caused by strip mining with spoil and soil as may be necessary to make the contour of the land approximately the same as before the mining operation was begun.1 Between 1949 and 1970, encompassing the 81st Congress through the 91st Congress, an additional forty-four bills were introduced and several hearings conducted, but no substantive legislative action was taken.2

The serious effort in Congress to enact Federal surface coal mining legislation was catalyzed in 1971, during the first session of the 92nd Congress, when a bill with nearly one hundred cosponsors was introduced, and provided for a ban on all surface coal mining in the United States [12] within six months after the enactment date.3 During the 92nd Congress alone, approximately thirty-five additional bills were introduced to phase out and/or regulate surface mining.4 This rush of legislative activity reflected public awareness and pressure clearly building in support of legislative measures to abate the environmental, social, and economic damages caused by strip mining.

While most coal producing states had enacted some surface mine reclamation requirements, there