St. Mary's Law Journal


Kay C. Martinez


St. Mary's University School of Law


Strip mining has been an increasingly important method of mineral extraction since the 1930's. It is economically preferable to shaft mining, for operator and consumer, because it extracts coal from the surface as opposed to the more costly methods of deep mining. More than 50% of all coal gets mined through the stripping method as of 1972. Unfortunately, some of the same characteristics which have made strip mining desirable have also produced extremely undesirable results in the environment. Sulfuric and sedimentary water pollution, caused by surface mining, affects the suitability of water for human consumption, and the stripping has often resulted in the devaluation of the land and depopulation of the surrounding areas. Federal regulation under the Federal Mining Law of 1872 and the Mineral Lease Act of 1920 resulted in a significant loss of the Appalachia and attempts to supersede these laws have been unsuccessful. The adoption of the Texas Surface Mining and Reclamation Act sought to balance the needs of environmental protection with the economic benefits of mining. The statute specifically declares that unregulated strip mining can have such effect on the land as to be inimical to the public interest and destructive to the public health, safety, welfare, and economy of the State of Texas. The act protects Texas land from the hazards of strip mining and to balance that goal as nearly as possible with the economic goals of the state. One major problem is the act gives broad discretionary powers to the Texas Railroad Commission; therefore, its effectiveness will rely on the commissions readiness to meet its responsibilities in protecting Texas resources.