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Oklahoma mine agency could lose federal funds

The Oklahoma Department of Mines is facing the loss of federal funding after the U.S. Department of Interior's inspector general questioned its enforcement of reclamation rules for coal mine operators.
BY JAY F. MARKS Modified: August 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: August 13, 2013

The Oklahoma Department of Mines could lose about $1 million a year in federal funding for allegedly failing to properly enforce land reclamation regulations for coal mine operators.

The state agency contends it did not have any contact with federal investigators before a “surprise” report was issued last week by the U.S. Department of Interior's inspector general to the director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

Inspectors attended a public hearing for residents near a Le Flore County mine during their visit. Some claimed a berm left from the reclamation process blocked their view of the mountains, while another complained it made his land unsuitable for cattle grazing.

The report recommends suspending grant funds to Oklahoma until the agency changes its enforcement program to comply with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.

The Oklahoma Department of Mines “was not interviewed or contacted for information by either party during the investigation,” the agency said in a statement released Friday.

The agency, which is responsible for ensuring the reclamation of land disturbed by mining operations in Oklahoma, is reviewing the report with help from Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office.

Mary Ann Pritchard, the agency's director, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Oklahoma first received conditional approval to regulate surface mining under federal law in 1981, according to the inspector general's report.

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