Tools for Regulation of Surface Mining

The primary focus of a reclamation plan is an outline of the actions necessary to return mined lands to a usable and safe condition at the completion of mining. Reclamation plans must address each of the reclamation plan requirements found in the California Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) (California Public Resources Code [PRC] Section 2710 et seq., Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations [CCR] Section 3500 et seq. and the standards that must be met in reclamation implementation, as specified in CCR Section 3503 and CCR Sections 3700-3713). Reclamation plans:

  • provide the required contents for a reclamation plan as specified in PRC Section 2772 and CCR Section 3502;
  • provide a clear list of intended actions necessary to comply with Annual Minimum Practices (CCR Section 3503) and Reclamation Standards (CCR Section 3700 et seq.) where required as part of operations or final reclamation;
  • serve as a reference manual for the mine operator to guide site development consistent with the approved plan, and to assist in regulatory compliance for operational activities, through the first and second bullet points above, and appended regulation and informational materials;
  • serve as a compliance document for the lead agency in monitoring ongoing compliance with the approved plan; and
  • provide a set of actions to be taken if the operation were to become idle, consistent with specified reclamation actions during operations and consistent with the final reclamation plan should the operation close.

Annual reports are required from all mines subject to SMARA from the time they are permitted until they are certified reclaimed, even if they have not begun operation or have ceased operation with no intent to resume. The Office of Mine Reclamation mails annual report forms to each reporting mining operation during May of each year. Reports must be postmarked on or before July 1 of that year.

The Community Development Agency arranges for inspection of each surface mining operation within six months of receipt of the annual report, to determine whether the surface mining operation is in compliance with the approved surface mining permit and/or reclamation plan, approved financial assurances, and state regulations. In no event is less than one inspection conducted in any calendar year. These inspections must be conducted using a form developed by the California Department of Conservation and approved by the State Mining and Geology Board. 

Periodic reviews are documents prepared by the NPS in accordance with the schedule adopted at the time of approval (intervals not to exceed five years for the reclamation plan and at intervals the planning commission determines appropriate for the surface mining permit, per SMO Section 6.80.180C). The purpose of the periodic reviews is to evaluate mining operations' compliance with conditions outlined in its surface mining permit and reclamation plan. The document notes whether each condition is applicable at the time of review, fulfilled, or requires revision based on new or changed circumstances and includes suggestions for revisions to conditions based on changed circumstances, including eliminated conditions that are no longer applicable, or adds conditions of approval to adequately address changed conditions at or around the particular mine site.

The document is submitted to the Alameda County Planning Commission for review, which includes a public hearing (per SMO Section 6.80.150). At the conclusion of the public hearing, the planning commission may approve modifications to the surface mining permit or reclamation plan. 

The California Surface Mining and Reclamation Act requires surface mining operators to obtain lead-agency-approved financial assurance for reclamation of mined lands so the public does not bear the cost of reclaiming abandoned operations. If the mine operator were not capable of reclaiming the mined lands, the NPS (or the California Department of Conservation) would use financial assurance funds to reclaim the mined site.

NPS reviews financial assurances annually. They are adjusted, if necessary, to reflect changes in the estimated cost of reclamation activities and lands reclaimed the previous year.

Once a project is approved an expiration date is assigned, mine owners must keep tabs on this expiration date, because it is easier and less complicated to revise the permit with new expiration dates than to start over from the beginning, as would be the case with an expired permit.

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