On June 15, 1981, the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act became the first federal environmental law to survive direct tenth amendment challenges in the United States Supreme Court. These challenges, asserted by the sovereign states of Virginia and Indiana, have perhaps signaled the end of a very uncertain beginning for SMCRA. In Virginia Surface Mining and its companion case, Hodel v. Indiana, the Court put to rest the notion that SMCRA violates the Constitution by infringing upon powers reserved to or preserved for the states by the tenth amendment. This note looks at the coal mining industry and highlights some of the many characteristics which distinguish coal mining from industries regulated by other federal environmental laws. It contends that the site specific nature of coal mining does not make it as amenable to regulation by uniform national standards as are other industries. It also contends that SMCRA was destined to end up in the Supreme Court because, by necessity, it had to regulate activities of a mine operation well after mining ceased if it was to be effective. Basically, the provisions found unconstitutional by the lower courts were prime targets for challenge because they have an impact upon post-mining land use. This factor clearly set SMCRA apart from previous federal environmental laws which do not regulate sources after production or manufacturing ceases. While a thorough review of SMCRA's far reaching program is beyond the purview of this Note, an attempt will be made to explain the tenth amendment issues which are the crux of the states' constitutional challenge of SMCRA. Further, this paper will review the lower court orders and comment upon the Supreme Court decisions in each case.
The Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977--First to Survive a Direct Tenth Amendment Attack,
W. Va. L. Rev.
Available at: https://researchrepository.wvu.edu/wvlr/vol84/iss5/5