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Maryland is a coal producing state with both surface and underground mines. Coal is found only in the far western end of the state. It is used to generate electricity, power local industries and provide heating to residential, commercial and institutional facilities. About five million tons of coal are mined each year. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) regulates about 65 permitted coal mines in Allegany and Garrett Counties that are in various stages of mining and reclamation. The bulk of the mines utilize the surface mining method, however, the state currently has four underground mines. Of the 484 mining permits issued since the program started, 400 sites have been reclaimed by the mining industry. This means the site was restored back to the original contour prior to mining, ensuring that there is no post-mining water quality impacts to surface and groundwaters.
Mine Coal Wisely to Protect Soil and Water
The Maryland Bureau of Mines (BOM), a Division within the MDE’s Water Management Administration (WMA) is charged with carrying out the goals and objectives of encouraging the wise use of our coal resources while protecting our valuable soil and water resources that may be impacted from the mining of coal. BOM staff require a number of different investigations to determine whether to issue mining permits. They set performance standards, require performance bonds, and set up monitoring and reporting protocols to ensure successful mining and land reclamation without creating nuisances or subsequent adverse environmental impacts.
Compliance Inspectors – Braving the Field
WMA’s Compliance Program has two full-time and two contractual Environmental Compliance Specialists (inspectors) dedicated to the Coal Mine Program who conduct routine inspections and investigations of complaints and violations. Federal mandates require at least monthly inspections of permitted sites and at least quarterly complete inspections. Complete inspections include evaluating mining methods, blasting standards, drainage controls, discharge permit limits, contemporaneous (fill-ins conducted at the same time mining occurs) backfilling and reclamation success, among other standards. The state Mining Law provides for stiff administrative, civil and criminal penalties for failing to comply with the Annotated Code, regulations and Mining Permits issued by MDE.
In-depth Federal Oversight
The U.S Office of Surface Mines (OSM) provides funding for Maryland’s federally approved program. Along with the funding, OSM conducts in-depth oversight of Maryland’s program, ensuring that when permits are issued, they include proper evaluation and performance standards. They monitor inspection and compliance activities, bond release processes, offsite impacts, and conduct joint oversight inspections on over half of Maryland’s permitted sites each year. OSM annual reports have routinely stated that the Maryland Program has been effective in meeting the goals of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.