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.
The Oklahoma Department of Mines is monitored by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which provides about $1 million a year to help fund the state's program.
Federal law requires mine operators to restore the mined land's topography to its general configuration before mining began.
State and federal officials have clashed over how best to do that repeatedly since 1983, according to the Aug. 5 report.
A 2010 review identified Oklahoma as the primary surface mining state with problems regulating reclamation projects.
Two of the five Oklahoma mines inspected during that review were cited for “approximate original contour” deficiencies under federal law. Another did not have a sufficiently detailed reclamation plan, the report states.
All three mines are operated by Arkansas-based Farrell-Cooper Mining Co., which is fighting the federal agency's claims in court. The state has sided with the mining company, citing federal overreach into a state regulatory enforcement agency.
The case is pending before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The Oklahoma Department of Mines said the inspector general's report ignores that the issue of “approximate original contour” has not been decided by the federal courts.