Immediately upon its creation, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Division began the process of promulgating rules and regulations, and issuing administrative guidelines. By April 1976, four months after its inception, the division was prepared to receive permit applications. The first application came from the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) for its Sandow Mine near Rockdale. In 1980, Texas became the first state in the nation with a federally-approved coal regulatory program.
The division has two principal responsibilities. It oversees all exploration, surface mining, and reclamation in the state for coal, uranium and iron ore, and iron ore gravel mining. It also conducts an Abandoned Mine Lands program for reclaiming land that was mined and left unreclaimed prior to the 1977 Federal Surface Mining and Reclamation Control Act.
Mining companies must have a permit for each mining site they operate in the State. Before the Commission issues a permit, the company must present a performance bond which would provide funds for reclamation if the company can't adequately do the job.
The division staff evaluates mining and reclamation plans to insure mining will not adversely affect the environment. The staff evaluates baseline environmental studies, mine operation plans, rights of entry, and land reclamation.
Division staff can also recommend to the Commissioners that proposed mine lands be declared unsuitable for surface mining where mining is not feasible.
The division's Abandoned Mine Program receives federal funds generated by a coal production fee to reclaim abandoned mines across the state. The Commission determines which abandoned mines pose the greatest public safety or environmental threat, designs reclamation plans, and contracts the reclamation with private companies.
In 1990, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Division managed 25 coal mining permits issued to 12 companies producing 55 million tons of coal. Texas currently ranks sixth in the nation in total annual coal production. The division also managed seven uranium ore mining permits issued to three companies with one operating mine, four inactive mine sites, and two mines undergoing reclamation. Since 1976, 30 uranium ore mine sites have been reclaimed and released from bond. Since 1980, the Texas Abandoned Mine Lands program has reclaimed approximately 800 acres over seven coal mines, three cinebar mines, one tin mine, and 32 uranium mines.