State Resumes Regulation of Mines Tonight

Article excerpt

The Oklahoma Department of Mines resumes enforcement and inspection of state coal mines at midnight tonight.

The U.S. Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining assumed the responsibility in April 1984 because of what it called "deficiencies" in the state program.

Tomorrow the state agency begins a new year with regained powers and a new nine-member mining commission. Oklahoma can once again inspect coal mining sites for compliance with regulations and reclamation requirements, levy fines for non-compliance and release bonds once reclamation of a site is completed.

"It's been a long-term effort," said Gayle Townley, deputy chief mine inspector, for Oklahoma to control its own regulatory program.

The state program, which grew out of the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, faced a lawsuit by Oklahoma miners intended to prevent the department of mines from enforcing the federal rules. Courts in Virginia and Indiana had held that some portions of the federal program were unconstitutional. The Oklahoma Mining and Reclamation Association sued to prevent implementation of the act in Oklahoma.

On Jan. 19, 1981 the Secretary of the Interior conditionally approved Oklahoma's regulatory program, which immediately encountered problems.

"During the first full year of permanent program oversight in 1982-1983, OSM (the Office of Surface Mining) indentified serious problems relating to the implementation of the program and notified the governor of those problems in a letter dated March 10, 1983," the federal agency said when it took oversight responsibility.

Under OSM primacy, the state continued to handle permitting, bonding and other responsibilities.

The OSM added additional personnel, including seven inspectors to its Oklahoma staff to handle the additional work load.

Now the Oklahoma State Department of Mines is adding personnel to resume that workload. The Legislature approved an additional 11 people for the department during the last session. …