In 1977, Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The Act, designed to protect the environment and society from the adverse effects of surface coal mining and to insure uniform minimum nationwide regulatory standards, established a comprehensive regulatory scheme for surface mining and reclamation operations of both federal and non-federal lands within the United States.
The Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation within the Department of the Interior, is charged with administering and implementing the Act. Implementation is divided into two stages. During the initial, or interim phase, all surface mining operations within a state are subject to federal enforcement of certain federally-promulgated environmental protection standards, complemented by continued state regulation. Under the second, or permanent phase, all surface mining operations within a state are subject to either federal or state enforcement of a regulatory program complying with all of the Act's environmental and performance standards.
If a state desires to assume permanent and exclusive regulatory authority (primacy) over surface mining under the permanent phase, it must submit a proposed permanent program to the Secretary of the Interior for approval. To receive approval, the state proposal must show that the state has enacted laws and regulations embodying the environmental protection and performance standards of the Act. The state proposal also must demonstrate the state's technical and administrative ability to enforce the required standards. Because coal is an integral part of Kentucky's economy, it is not surprising that Kentucky sought primacy. Kentucky's revised proposed permanent program was approved by the Secretary of the Interior on May 18, 1982.