potential to mitigate the effects of past mining practices, particularly acid mine drainage on abandoned mine lands. However, the regulatory environment and the technical support programs administered by both state and federal agencies, and implemented by mining companies through their compliance practices, are inadequately supported by existing research programs.
Recommendation: Additional research is needed to mitigate the adverse environmental impacts associated with past, existing, and future coal mining and processing. Research activities should focus particularly on developing techniques to mitigate the alteration and collapse of strata overlying mined areas, to model the hydrological impacts of coal mining, to improve mine mapping and void detection, to improve the stability of spoils on steep slopes, and to improve the construction and monitoring of impoundments.
Both the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, although primarily regulatory agencies, fund limited R&D activities in support of their missions. The committee estimates that annual funding of approximately $70 million will be required to conduct the research necessary to adequately respond to the environmental impacts of past, existing, and future mining operations. The committee recommends that OSM should be the lead agency in this effort, and it should coordinate closely with related EPA and state research activities.
Although evolutionary developments in technology and mining practices (primarily underground longwall mining in the East and the growth of large surface operations in the West) have resulted in a two- to threefold increase in the productivity of U.S. coal mines since the mid-1970s, production and productivity increases in recent years have been small or nonexistent as mining companies and equipment manufacturers made only incremental improvements. Over the past decade, there has been little R&D directed toward truly advanced mining technologies and at present, only 0.2 percent of total federal coal-related R&D funding is directed toward development of the advanced mining technologies and practices that are necessary to optimize utilization of the nation’s coal resource. Small percentage increases in coal recovery through improved mining and coal preparation processes have the potential to significantly expand economically recoverable reserves of both eastern and western coals. The development of these technologies, increasingly needed as coal reserve quality decreases over time, will help to maximize utilization of the nation’s coal resource.
The global transfer of coal mining and processing technology within the industry is facilitated by international equipment manufacturers, who work closely