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Coal is readily combustible black or brownish-black color graphite like material rock used as fuel.  It consists of inherent moisture, carbon, sulfur, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and carbonaceous material.  It is formed from fossilized plants which have been compacted, hardened, chemically altered, and metamorphosed by heat and pressure over geologic time.  It normally occurs in rock strata as layers or veins called coal beds or coal seam.

Pursuant to 30 USCS § 802 (h) (1), coal or other mine refers to:

  • the area of land from which minerals are extracted in non-liquid form.  If the mineral is extracted in liquid form, then it must be extracted with workers working underground;
  • the private ways and roads appurtenant to such area; and
  • the lands, excavations, underground passageways, shafts, slopes, tunnels and workings, structures, facilities, equipment, machines, tools, or other property including impoundments, retention dams, and tailings ponds, whose surface or underground is used or planning to be used for the work of extracting minerals from their natural deposits in non-liquid form.  If the mineral is extracted in liquid form, then it must be extracted with workers working underground.  It also means land used for the milling of such minerals or in the work of preparing coal or other minerals, and in providing facilities for custom coal preparation.


The method of preparing coal includes breaking, crushing, sizing, cleaning, washing, drying, mixing, storing, and loading of bituminous coal, lignite, or anthracite, and such other work of preparing such coal as is usually done by the operator of the coal mine[i].

In U.S. coal is treated as the primary fuel for the industrial revolution.  With the advent of the energy crisis in the 1970’s, coal assumes an expanding role as a vital part of the U.S. energy mix.

In order to dispose the federally owned coal through enactment, the Congress enacted the Mineral Lands Leasing Act of 1920 (1920 Act).  It was later amended by the Federal Coal Leasing Amendments Act of 1976, and 1978.  In addition, in 1976, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) was enacted.  It established broad policies for federal land use and coal leasing program.  Later in 1977, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) was enacted to regulate the environmental effects of coal mining in the U.S.

Generally, the primary responsibility for federal coal leasing lies with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) of the Department of the Interior (DOI).  The provisions contained in the1920 Act, as amended, and the FLPMA, as well as several other federal statutes, including the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) are implemented with the help of the DOI regulations.  DOI shall issue regulations governing coal management, including exploration licenses, competitive and noncompetitive leases, and mining leases.

The main aim behind DOI regulations is to:

  • prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of public lands by operations authorized by the mining laws; and
  • balance the conflicting needs of the environment and the nation’s industrial needs.


Later in the year 1992, the Energy Policy Act was enacted to provide for the research, development, demonstration, and commercial application of coal programs[ii].  The Act also established programs for clean coal technology[iii], clean coal technology export promotion, and innovative clean coal technology transfer[iv].  In addition, the Act also addresses conventional coal technology transfers and expanding coal exports.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 establishes a Clean Coal Power Initiative.  The initiative provides for[v]:

  • assistance to projects for advancing efficiency;
  • environmental performance; and
  • cost competitiveness.


[i] 30 USCS § 802 (i).

[ii] 42 USCS § 13333.

[iii] 42 USCS § 13361.

[iv] 42 USCS § 13362.

[v] 42 USCS § 15962.

Inside Coal